SANTA CLARA -- As expected, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh's concerns about how quarterbacks are regarded on read-option plays are shared by offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
However, on the other side of the ball is 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. And he sees things a lot differently than Harbaugh and Roman.
"I think the league has been pretty clear on what their stance is," Fangio said Thursday. "Until the quarterback presents himself as a passer, he's a runner."
Of course, the topic is relevant at the beginning of this season with an influx of young, mobile quarterbacks who thrive at the controls of read-option running attacks.
Colin Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards -- the most yards rushing for a quarterback in NFL history -- in the 49ers' 45-31 victory over the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs. The Packers have made it known they want to get as many legal hits on Kaepernick as possible -- whether he has the ball or not -- in the rematch on Sunday at Candlestick Park. So, the question becomes, what's legal?
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Dean Blandino, the NFL's vice president of officiating, clarified the rules stance recently in comments to the Los Angeles Times.
"The key is the posture of the quarterback," Blandino said. "You can't take a free shot at him. But what we're seeing in some instances is the quarterback hands off and then carries out the fake like he has the ball, and he's presenting a running posture. In that instance, he's trying to deceive the defense, trying to draw the defense to him, and he doesn't have special protection in that situation. He can be hit until enough time has passed where he's clearly out of the play."
Fangio said he believes that explanation is consistent with the way quarterbacks have been "protected" by the officiating in the past.
"Really, I think what people have misinterpreted the rule a little bit," Fangio said. "The quarterback has never gotten any special attention. The passer gets special attention. It just so happens the quarterback is the passer 99.9 percent of the time. But it's the passer.
"If you were toss the ball to the halfback and he's going to throw a halfback pass, once he starts the action of throwing the pass, he gets the protection of a passer. So until the quarterback starts showing that he's a passer, he's just like a running back."
Harbaugh said on Wednesday that he has spoken to the NFL office about how those plays will be officiated. And he said he expects to continue those conversations prior to Sunday's game with the officiating crew at Candlestick Park.
Neither Harbaugh nor Roman had any issues with the way the Baltimore Ravens defended Kaepernick in the Super Bowl. There were times when Kaepernick was hit by Baltimore defenders shortly after handing off on read-option plays. But Roman sees the possibility that defensive players can exploit the "gray area" of the NFL rulebook.
"My feelings are the rule needs to be refined to make it a good rule," Roman said. "I think the interpretation of it can be abused, not in the best interest of the players or the league."