BY SEAN DONOVAN
Two of the biggest NFL storylines this past season were the read-option offenses that exploded onto the scene and the quality crop of young, athletic quarterbacks that ran them.
The Miami Dolphins, with a young, athletic quarterback of their own, also unveiled a version of the read-option in 2012. Though it didn't make nearly the impact it did with some of the other first-year quarterbacks around the league, the success Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins had warrants inclusion of the package going forward.
Like it famously did in 2008 with the wildcat package, Miami first unveiled this offense against the New England Patriots. Down at home 17-3 with less than a minute to go in the first half, Tannehill and the Dolphins lined up in a standard one-back, one-tight end shotgun set.
Tannehill took a read of the defense, specifically Rob Ninkovich (No. 50). As Tannehill reached out to hand the ball off to tailback Daniel Thomas, Ninkovich crashed inside to contact the ball-carrier, so Tannehill instead kept the ball and sprinted to the outside where there was now no defender.
Tannehill was able to score a crucial touchdown on this play, but his team ultimately lost. Miami did not call the play again that day.
The next week in Jacksonville, Miami expanded its use of the read-option, using it four times with moderate success. It wasn't until Week 16 against the Buffalo Bills that the Dolphins truly showed what they could do with the offense.
The Dolphins ran the play 12 times and gained 108 yards, averaging 9 yards per play. Its power to eliminate defenders without blocking them was exemplified on one first quarter play.
Miami lined up in a two-back shotgun set, and the Bills in their base 4-3 alignment. As the ball was snapped, Miami's lineman blocked down to the right. Buffalo safety Jarius Byrd blitzed, but was well blocked by fullback Jovorskie Lane.
Tannehill reached out for the hand-off, and upon seeing Byrd penetrate the backfield, gave the ball to Reggie Bush and sprinted to the outside.
Bills weakside linebacker Nick Barnett saw Tannehill and went to contain him, but by the time he realized that the quarterback didn't have the ball, he was well out of position to tackle Bush.
The threat of the quarterback run took a critical defender out of the play and gave Bush a clear path to the third level of the defense for a 9-yard gain.
Later in the game, Tannehill displayed exactly why the defense should respect his ability to make a play with his legs, and why the read option offense is viable for the Dolphins going forward.
On a first-and-10 play in Buffalo territory, Miami lined up in a single back shotgun once again. Bills defensive end Mario Williams was Tannehill's read on this play. At the snap, right tackle Nate Garner willingly gave Williams a free path to the backfield and released to block a linebacker.
As Williams crashed inside to cut off Bush, Tannehill decided to keep the ball and sprinted to the outside. After a blown block on the linebacker by Garner, Tannehill juked around the tackler then used his speed to split a pair of defenders and dart up the sideline for a 31-yard pickup.
Though largely unused in the beginning part of the 2012 season, Tannehill showed he has the athletic ability to be a threat in the read-option offense.
The Dolphins did not throw the ball out of the play, which was an element that made the read-option schemes of the Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks and San Fransisco 49ers more prolific than the version Miami ran late in the year.
Considering the success of the concept around the league and the abilities of their young quarterback, it would not be surprising to see the Dolphins develop and feature a more comprehensive read option package for next season.
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