With the read option not likely to disappear any time soon, the NFL clarified its stance Thursday on how quarterbacks will be treated when carrying out run fakes. In a video released through NFL Communications, NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino explains that quarterbacks can be tackled even if they don't have the ball, provided they are still carrying out a fake and have not taken themselves out of the play.
"He is still treated as a runner until he is clearly out of the play," Blandino said. "The quarterback makes the pitch, he's still a runner, he can be hit like a runner until he's clearly out of the play."
It will be up to officials to make the difficult determination of whether a quarterback is still part of a play or not. Blandino explained that referees will be looking at posture. If a quarterback looks like a runner, he should be prepared to be hit like a runner. As soon as the quarterback assumes a posture that suggests he is no longer involved in the play, defenses will be flagged for unnecessary roughness if they tackle him.
The clarity of Blandino's explanation will no doubt be tested often this season. The read option requires quarterbacks to read crashing defensive ends while determining whether or not to hand the ball off to a running back or keep it. If the ball goes into the belly of a running back, the quarterback then pretends he has the ball, potentially inviting a big hit from a confused (or opportunistic) defender.
Nonetheless, the rule makes sense from an official's perspective, as Blandino explained:
"The quarterback and the running back, they're both treated as runners," Blandino said. "We don't know who has the football, we don't know who's going to take it, so both players are treated as runners."