Harbaugh says NFL’s new read-option rules gives defenders “the license” to hit Kaepernick in the knees and head

SANTA CLARA – Jim Harbaugh spoke in the media tent Friday afternoon. Here’s what he said about the NFL’s new read-option rules.

Q: How do you feel about the clarification you got from the officials and the league on the rules about hitting the quarterback on the read-option?

HARBAUGH: I think it’s flawed and biased.

Q: Can you elaborate on that? Why do you think it’s biased?

HARBAUGH: I believe that when a quarterback is handing the ball or faking a ball – in the read-option case he’s reading on an option play, he’s as defenseless as a quarterback who’s in the act of throwing. I’m not advocating that they don’t hit the quarterback if he has the ball, but when he’s in the pocket I believe there should be a strike zone, the same strike zone that is given to the quarterback when he’s in the pocket throwing the ball.

I feel like you give a license now to players to hit quarterbacks at the knee or in the head, and it just seems to be a flip flop of what the league is trying to get accomplished. Player safety, I’ve heard Rich McKay talking about a competition committee looking into ways to reduce chop blocks or players getting hit at the knee, and now you’re really opening up a door and giving a license to defensive players to say, “I couldn’t tell if he clearly had the ball or not, so now we can hit him in the knee or the head.” It doesn’t make sense.

Now, once a quarterback has indicated that he’s going to be a runner, I believe he is a runner and should be treated as a runner. But when he’s in a pocket in that vulnerable position, in that reading position, then I believe he should have the same protection as a quote unquote throwing quarterback.

And then how do they decide? Who makes that determination? Whether he’s under center faking to a tailback or he’s in the shotgun faking to the tailback, by definition a fake is a deception. It’s a deceptive maneuver. The quarterback that makes the fake and then waggles out on a bootleg, he’s a runner or a thrower. Are they opened up to being hit in the head and the knees, treated like a running back?

So, that’s how I feel about it. It seems simple. It seems like they would have more of an appetite to look at that but they’ve said they don’t have an appetite to look at it any further. That’s where we’re at.

Q: Does that force you to adjust anything in terms of how you teach how long to carry out the play fakes after the ball is gone?

HARBAUGH: We talked about a gray area the other day – yeah, I know what the rules are. I know how they’ve been explained, but still there’s still some gray area. When you start using words like “he clearly doesn’t have the ball,” what does that really mean? Like, “I just handed it off, he’s got the ball!” (Harbaugh mimics a quarterback handing off to a running back, jumping away and pointing at the running back.)

Or put your hands up? So yeah, there’s a bit of a gray area there. To me, he’s a quarterback until he leaves the quarterback as a running threat. I think it’s flawed the way they have it now.

Q: How do you see that affecting the game Sunday?

HARBAUGH: We’re going to play football. We’re going to play, Kaep’s going to play and we’re going to play the game.

ME: Did the NFL disagree with your opinion for the necessity of a strike zone, or did they not want to talk about it?

HARBAUGH: I suggested the strike zone and the competition committee came back and said they didn’t have an appetite to change it.

Q: Has Kaepernick gotten hit before on a read-option hand off?

HARBAUGH: No, he was getting hit in the strike zone because that’s been the rule. There’s been a strike zone for quarterbacks in the pocket. But it’s just this new language where they keep saying, “Treat him like a running back, we don’t know who’s got the ball,” you’re opening up a license to hit them outside the strike zone. I’m entitled to my opinion, that’s why I answered the question. I think it’s flawed and I think it’s biased.

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