The read-option has been one of the most dynamic offensive schemes in college football for many years. Many a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback over the past 25 seasons has used it to dice up opposing defenses, from Vince Young at Texas, or Tim Tebow at Florida, to Robert Griffin III at Baylor.
Despite that tremendous success at the college level, the elite speed of NFL defenses kept just about every team in the league from using the scheme.
That is, until then-Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was given Griffin III and told to build an offense around the dynamic signal-caller, whom the team had selected No. 2 overall in the 2012 NFL Draft.
“Mine was a little different. There wasn’t a lot of tape on it, and I had seen it a lot in college, especially studying Robert at Baylor,” Shanahan told NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco on “49ers Game Plan.” “Once we got him, I knew that was the direction we were gonna need to go.
“I didn’t want to study it too much in college, because it’s more about studying the defenses and how they’re going to play it.”
Griffin threw for 20 touchdowns and ran for over 800 yards as a rookie, as Washington finished 10-6 and won the NFC East, with Shanahan’s offense emphasizing the zone-read scheme.
Despite being the architect of one of the NFL’s first truly successful option offenses, Shanahan isn’t attempting to take credit for what quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Ravens have been able to do in 2019.
“They’ve taken it to the next level because it’s not just zone read,” Shanahan said. “They’re doing quarterback power, quarterback counter, running the quarterback up the middle, they’re doing a ton of things off of it, which truly makes it a Wildcat offense.
“The issue is, it’s a Wildcat offense with a quarterback playing the Wildcat, which is what’s making it pretty historic, what they’re doing.”
Shanahan will get a chance to try and slow down the high-powered Baltimore offense on Sunday when his 49ers visit Jackson and the Ravens, whose QB room now also includes the coach's former understudy, Griffin.
You can see the full episode of “49ers Game Plan” on Saturday at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area.