MOBILE, Ala. — A defensive coordinator by trade, Broncos head coach Vance Joseph doesn’t like the proliferation of the run-pass option in the NFL.
“It’s hard on the defense, and it’s not fair,” he said with a smile. “It’s part of our game.”
It is in Chicago, at least. When the Bears hired Matt Nagy — and he, in turn, named former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich his offensive coordinator — it became clear the team wanted to use quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s athleticism with run-pass options.
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That’s what Nagy and head coach Andy Reid did for the Chiefs’ Alex Smith this season. They gave him the option of throwing, handing the ball off or keeping it, depending on how he reads the defense. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, a former Reid assistant, is riding his version of the modernized West Coast offense to the Super Bowl.
“Those guys did a great job, in my opinion — Andy, really — of flipping his mindset from being a NFL West Coast offense to a spread offense,” Joseph said Tuesday. “So watching Nagy and watching coach Andy Reid just flip their offense, that’s fun to see.
“You watch Philly with their quarterbacks, it’s fun to watch guys adjust to the player,’’ Joseph said. ‘‘It’s a players’ league. Players first, scheme second.”
While the Broncos are looking for their next quarterback at the Senior Bowl — Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Wyoming’s Josh Allen are playing for Joseph’s North team — the Bears think they found theirs one year ago.
Trubisky ran the spread at North Carolina and posted the fourth-fastest 40-yard dash among quarterbacks at the NFL Scouting Combine last year. Making the trendy run-pass option part of the Bears’ offense plays to that strength.
“I just think that’s where football’s going — giving the quarterbacks a little more flexibility and having the run game and the options,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “Instead of the old way, where the receivers are just blocking, let them run some routes and give your quarterback a little more ownership than in the past. I just think you see it filtering down to all levels of football.”
Last week, Helfrich called it the “trickle-up effect,” saying NFL coaches are trying to adjust to the quarterbacks they draft. Those raised in the spread system know precisely how to put pressure on a defense.
Texans coach Bill O’Brien said the schemes go in cycles, but there’s no doubt they are trending toward athletic quarterbacks in spread systems. He used those concepts to great success this season, when rookie sensation Deshaun Watson threw for 1,699 yards and 19 touchdowns in seven games before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.
“The rules are different, the talent level is different, but there are certain things these guys are doing in college that, when they come to the pros, they’re really comfortable doing,” said O’Brien, the head coach of the South team. “And they’re able to apply it to pro football. So I think we’re always studying the college game, we’re always studying our game, because a lot of people are incorporating these different things.
“It’s something where, if you’ve got the right guy pulling the trigger back there, then you have a chance to really do something with that type of offense.”
The Bears think they have the right player at quarterback — and the right staff to reach him.
Oregon tackle Tyrell Crosby said he thinks Helfrich, his former head coach, will have success with the run-pass option in his first NFL job.
‘‘There’s been a lot of focus with it at the college level,” he said. “If it works, it works. Teams want to win, and it’s working.”
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