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Sunday Football Notes

NFL coaches doubt staying power of read option

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t think the read-option offense will last.

AP/File

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t think the read-option offense will last.

At the NFL owners’ meetings in March, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called the read-option offense used predominantly by the 49ers, Redskins, and Seahawks last season “the flavor of the month.”

The comment, naturally, spurred discussion with the other 31 coaches who were on hand in Phoenix.

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Some, such as Falcons coach Mike Smith, were diplomatic, saying everything in the NFL is cyclical and the game is always evolving.

Jim Harbaugh, whose quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, led the 49ers to the Super Bowl with his legs and arm, was his usual blunt self when asked if the read option is more than a fad: “Yes.”

Then there were those like Tomlin who are skeptical of the scheme’s staying power.

“I think the read option is the flavor of the month. We will see whether it’s the flavor of the year,” Tomlin said. “A few years ago, people were talking wildly about the Wildcat. There’s less of a discussion now.

“I think that there are coaches in rooms preparing themselves to defend [the read option], coaches in rooms that are also preparing themselves to run it, and I think it is going to sort out on the grass. I look forward to it.”

Tomlin noted that using the read option means coaches are committing to getting their quarterbacks hit, because in that system, they can become runners, which leaves them open to injury, as happened with Washington’s Robert Griffin III.

His knee already weakened from previous hits, Griffin is now recovering from tears to his ACL, LCL, and meniscus suffered in the playoffs against Seattle.

But Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who was widely criticized for keeping Griffin in the game when he was clearly hobbling against the Seahawks, asserted that his team will continue to run the read option, despite also saying that Griffin “can’t take shots consistently.”

Smith can see the benefits of running the system with an athletic quarterback like Griffin, Kaepernick, or the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson.

“The more you see it, the more familiarity you have with it, it does become easier to defend it,” Smith said. “There are some issues in terms of defending it philosophically because you have a quarterback that can run the football and you have to account for him.

“In most traditional NFL offenses, the quarterback is a distributor of the ball. He hands it off to a running back or he drops back and passes it and he’s out of the play, you don’t have to account for him as a runner.

“So in the defensive schemes that you have to have for the read option, you have to account for him, so you’re going to be taking a resource away from one area and putting it on the quarterback as a runner, and I think that’s a little bit of an issue on it right now. But it’s always evolving.”

Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who sees Griffin twice a season in the NFC East, would not talk about the Redskins’ quarterback specifically, or whether the Redskins will be able to keep the face of the franchise healthy with the continued use of the read option. But in a broader sense, he sees the risks.

“Let’s look at it the other way: When what you were asking your running quarterback to do was sprint, break perimeter, run the quarterback draw and that kind of thing, you’d get him nicked up doing that stuff,” Coughlin said. “But there would be some strong arguments about the guy sitting in the pocket who takes a flush hit, too.

“Some of these young men are so good athletically, it’s very difficult to get the big hit on them. But over the course of the season?”

Not surprisingly, Coughlin will wait to see if the read option has staying power. But he also knows his coaches and players have to learn how to defend it in the short term.

“My position still is it’s going to take five years to evaluate, to see where this stuff goes with the running quarterback. It still is very, very logical,” Coughlin said. “Take a look at your salary cap and how much money you have in that [quarterback] position and all the time and effort that goes into preparing that guy and his status within your organization and whether you want to expose him to that.

“Let’s give it five years and evaluate it. Let’s not rush to judgment on anything. Obviously, it’s very effective and has been, but some of these defensive coaches, they’re not sitting around looking out the window having coffee. They’re into it. The energy level on the defensive end of the hall, in most buildings, has been perked up by what’s happened.”

The oldest coach in the league at 66, Coughlin said he’s seen every type of offense, going back to when he was on the staff at Syracuse in the ’70s and teams used the trap option and the veer or triple option.

Coughlin is confident, however, that the veer won’t be making its way into the NFL.

NEW FIELD

Ex-Patriot Brown decides to branch out

Patriots Hall of Famer Troy Brown has appeared in front of the camera on Comcast SportsNet New England, and behind the microphone with WEEI. But last week he was one of 23 current and former NFL players at a Toledo Mud Hens game, learning the finer points of writing a game story as part of the NFL Sports Journalism & Communications Boot Camp.

“You know me, the more you can do,” Brown joked.

Famous not only for being a clutch receiver, Brown is also the franchise leader in punt return yardage, and played some cornerback late in his career. He found himself at a keyboard last week, trying his hand at a form of media different than the ones he’s already taking part in.

“Obviously, that next step was writing, which is not a strong suit of mine, and I think my work will become even better once I can put [ideas] down on paper better,” Brown said.

Writing a story off a game challenged Brown.

“Those kind of things are a little tough, a little out of my league,” he said. “The writing aspect, deadlines make it really tough. You don’t know if they need 200 words, 300 words, whatever the space is, that’s the challenging part.

“It was a good experience doing that, and it takes time to develop that writing skill.”

As Ty Law noted during Brown’s Patriots Hall of Fame induction ceremony last summer, who would have thought Troy Brown would be talking for a living?

“I wanted no parts of media [as a player],” Brown said. “It wasn’t that I was trying to dis the media, I just didn’t like doing it . . . I didn’t think I did a good job when I had a camera in my face.

“I had no ambition to be in media, but I got asked by WEEI, got asked by Comcast to do a couple of things. I did them, it wasn’t great, I tried it a few more times, and I started to like it. I thought if I had practice, I’d be decent at it. I’m not [former Cowboys quarterback turned Fox analyst] Troy Aikman, but I’m working at it.”

GENERALLY SPEAKING

New CEO Brandon shakes it up in Buffalo

The Bills announced last Monday that general manager Buddy Nix would be stepping down, and said on Thursday that assistant GM Doug Whaley would replace him.

The move came just a couple of weeks after team president and CEO Russ Brandon declared that Nix “is our general manager and will be for a long time.”

(Apparently, a long time in Buffalo is a little more than a fortnight.)

But the move had been in the works for some time. Whaley has been groomed for the role, and when Brandon took over Jan. 1, it was only a matter of time until Nix was moved out.

Whaley is Brandon’s guy; Nix was not.

Part of the problem? Nix still called Brandon “sonny,” a sign of disrespect to a superior, even if Brandon is nearly 30 years younger than the 73-year-old Nix.

Brandon joined the Bills in 1997 as executive director of business development and marketing, after a stint as a front-office executive with the Florida Marlins. At the time, Nix was Buffalo’s southeast regional scout.

Nix left for San Diego in 2001, where he remained for seven seasons, and returned to Buffalo in 2009 as national scout. Less than a year later, he was promoted to GM.

Whaley spent more than a decade as the Steelers’ pro scouting coordinator before joining the Bills in 2010.

Still owed money on his contract, Nix will be retained as a special assistant.

ETC.

California attempting to limit comp claims

California has become a new battleground for the NFL and retired players, and the question has been raised anew: How long should the league be responsible for the men who suffered debilitating injuries playing the game?

Through Assembly Bill 1309, the state is trying to ban all professional athletes from putting in a workers’ compensation claim in California if they played for teams in other states, or ended their careers playing for a team in another state.

(As an example, under this bill, 49ers icon Joe Montana would not be able to file a claim because he finished his career as a member of the Chiefs.)

The NFL provides health insurance for five years post-retirement, and only for players who spent four or more years in the league. But many of the effects of a career spent playing football, like the need for knee or hip replacements, might not be necessary until after that period ends. Problems such as arthritis, Alzheimer’s or ALS won’t show up immediately after a man’s playing days are over, either.

The statute of limitations for making a workers’ comp claim varies by state. In Virginia, it’s only one year; in Ohio, it is five. California is one of nine states that recognizes “cumulative trauma,” conditions sustained through their jobs.

It is employers who pay workers’ comp, not states, which is why NFL owners would be more than happy to see AB 1309 pass. Even when former players file in the states in which they played, the teams they played for will oppose the claim.

The NFL’s disability board, run by league management and the Players’ Association, rejects almost 60 percent of the claims it sees.

It is true that players signed up for an NFL career of their own volition, and there are risks involved. But when the league insurance runs out after five years, what then? Few, if any, companies will insure individuals with a preexisting condition, or if they do, the premium is astronomical. The Washington Post quoted former Bills linebacker Darryl Talley, who said he was offered limited policies that would not cover his elbows, back, neck, ankles, and knees.

As Talley said, “They’ll insure everything else, but what the hell else is there?”

There is no denying that players today do earn a good salary. The minimum for rookies in 2013 is $405,000, and the league-wide average is $1.9 million.

But the average salary was $90,000 in 1982. The cost of care players from that generation now need far exceeds that. Should the NFL be responsible to those men? It is not as if the league will feel the pinch — the NFL pulls in $9.5 billion in revenues annually, and all 32 teams are among Forbes magazine’s 50 most valuable sports franchises in the world.

The profits they enjoy now largely came on the backs of those men, who helped popularize this brutal sport and make it into the entity it is, able to make every date on its calendar an event.

For many of those men, even standing up for any length of time is painful, and sadder still, some may not be able to remember those glory days if a neurocognitive condition sets in.

Prime opportunity?

Brian Hoyer may finally get a chance to see significant snaps. Tom Brady’s former backup signed a two-year deal with the Browns on Thursday. He was brought in by new GM Mike Lombardi, who has said in the past that he believes Hoyer is starter material.

Lombardi isn’t enamored with the quarterback he inherited, second-year starter Brandon Weeden. The Browns also have well-traveled veteran Jason Campbell, and Thaddeus Lewis, a rookie free agent out of Duke in 2010.

Though he took the first-team snaps, Weeden did not perform well during the Browns’ first round of OTAs.

The Steelers also pursued Hoyer. He spent two weeks last season as Charlie Batch’s backup when Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich were out with injuries.

Claimed off waivers by Arizona, Hoyer got his first career start in the season finale against the 49ers, the fourth quarterback under center for the Cardinals last year. He was 19 for 34 for 225 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.

Arizona, which has traded for Carson Palmer, cut Hoyer last Monday.

Extra points

The Jets might have a couple of divas on their hands. Quarterback Geno Smith, whom the team drafted in the second round, fired his agents after he fell out of the first round. Now, cornerback Dee Milliner has fired his agents, upset that he wasn’t among the first five players chosen. The Jets took Milliner ninth. These guys do know the draft can’t be done over, right? . . . One of the better additions to the Twittersphere in recent weeks: Phyllis Harrell. Harrell is mother to Devin (Patriots) and Jason (Titans) McCourty, and her posts @MamaMcCourty so far have included old pictures of the twins, sharing the advice she gave them as they were growing up, and mediating the back-and-forth barbs her sons send one another through their joint Twitter account, @McCourtyTwins . . . Patriots owner Robert Kraft is speaking at the Suffolk University College of Arts & Sciences commencement Sunday, and also will receive an honorary Doctor of Public Service.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.
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