Joan and I spent the whole day down at the Oregon coast, in Manzanita, with her bro Davis, his wife and some of their friends. It was a really nice day, but since we got back late I didn't have the energy to scan and post my usual. So here's a cartoon:
Morwood, who passed away on July 23 from cancer, made important contributions in research areas ranging from the rock art of Australia’s Kimberly region to the seafaring capabilities of Homo erectus. But he will be best remembered for a discovery he and his colleagues made on the Indonesian island of Flores: the remains of a miniature human species that shared the planet with our own ancestors not so long ago.
In 2001, Morwood, then at the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, and Raden Soejono of the Indonesian Center for Archaeology in Jakarta re-opened excavations at a large limestone cave in western Flores called Liang Bua. Morwood had previously discovered in central Flores crude stone artifacts from 840,000 years ago that presumably belonged toHomo erectus, and he was hoping to find traces of subsequent occupants of the island. In 2003, the Liang Bua team hit pay dirt. What they unearthed was stranger than anyone could have imagined: a skeleton of an adult female who stood barely a meter tall and had a brain the size of a chimp’s (among other primitive traits) yet lived just 17,000 years ago. Stone tools and burnt animal bones accompanied the enigmatic human remains.
The find jolted paleoanthropologists. H. sapiens was thought to be the sole human species on earth by 17,000 years ago, following the extinction of the Neandertals and other archaic cousins of ours millennia earlier. Even more astonishing, the only known members of the human family as small as the little Floresian were australopithecines—Lucy and her kind, who lived some three million years ago. ThatH. sapiens could have had a contemporary as primitive as H. floresiensis was unimaginable.
The team formally assigned this skeleton and some fragments representing other individuals to a new species, H. floresiensis. But they were nicknamed the hobbits, after J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved characters.
The hobbits weren’t the only oddly sized denizens of Flores back then. Remains of enormous rats, dwarfed elephantlike creatures known as stegodonts, and giant lizards and storks turned up at Liang Bua, too. Morwood and his colleagues had uncovered a lost world like no other. And when the researchers published their initial description of the find, they emphasized the significance of that environment in molding H. floresiensis. The hobbit was probably a descendant of H. erectus that had gotten stranded on Flores and evolved its petite size as an adaptation to the limited food supply available there, they proposed. In that way, it appeared to follow the so-called island rule, which holds that animals larger than rabbits tend to shrink in island settings, whereas those smaller than rabbits become giants (possibly because larger bodies are more energetically efficient than small ones).
In suggesting that H. floresiensis followed the island rule, the researchers broke with conventional paleoanthropological wisdom, which holds that humans (particularly members of our genus, Homo) have adapted to many of the selective pressures that shape other species through culture—our ancestors dealt with the cold by fashioning clothes from animal hides and building fires, rather than evolving thick fur, for example.
Yet island dwarfing could not explain all of the hobbit’s other characteristics. For one thing, her brain (as judged from her braincase) seemed to be smaller than expected for her height. In addition, subsequent analyses revealed a number of other traits throughout the skeleton that appeared too primitive to have come from a H. erectus ancestor. And so over the next few years another hypothesis about the origin of H. floresiensis began to gain traction—one that was even more revolutionary than the first.
Perhaps H. floresiensis descended not from H. erectus but from an earlier, more primitive species, such as H. habilis, which in many ways more closely resembles australopithecines than members of our own genus. When I went to Indonesia in 2008 for a follow-up story on the discovery, this was the scenario Morwood was betting on. He shared his views as he showed me the fragile hobbit bones housed in Jakarta and the careful excavation he and Indonesian archaeologist Thomas Sutikna were conducting in Liang Bua. The ancestors of the hobbits were probably pre-erectus members of Homo who were already small when they arrived on Flores and then perhaps underwent some island dwarfing when they once they got there, he explained.
If so, scientists will have to rethink a watershed event in human evolution: the initial dispersal of human ancestors out of Africa. H. erectus, with its nearly modern proportions, was long thought to be the first human species to make it out of Africa, because the oldest human remains to have been found outside of Africa (1.78 million-year-old fossils from the Republic of Georgia) belong to that species. But if Morwood’s view is correct, the first member of the human family to blaze a trail out of the motherland began its journey hundreds of thousands of years earlier than that, and was an altogether different kind of pioneer than the one experts had in mind. And if that’s the case, then researchers have missed a two-million-year record of this wee wayfarer in the rocks between Africa and Southeast Asia.
That an entire chapter of the saga of human origins may be unaccounted for is not as implausible as it might sound: Asian hominins (anatomically modern humans and their ancestors) are poorly known, because rock exposures of the right age to contain such fossils are hard to come by. Yet the discovery of this bizarre cousin of ours on Flores underscores just how important it is to look for them. In recent years Morwood continued his search, looking for H. floresiensis and its ancestors at two sites on nearby Sulawesi.
It bears mentioning that some experts do not buy the argument that the Flores remains represent a previously unknown species. They suspect that the skeleton instead belongs to a H. sapiens individual who had a disease of some sort that produced the specimen’s unusual features. They have yet to come up with a diagnosis that can explain the hobbit’s unusual mix of traits to everyone’s satisfaction, however. The discovery of another small skull at the site would settle the matter in favor of the hobbit being a distinct species. Although excavators have recovered bones of some 14 hobbits from Liang Bua thus far, only one specimen—the largely complete skeleton found in 2003—preserves a skull.
Science needs shake-ups—findings that break all the rules, force researchers to reconsider what they thought they knew and remind us all that there is still so much to learn. Nine years after the Liang Bua team introduced the world to H. floresiensis,scholarly papers on it continue to fill the pages of scientific journals, presentations on it still attract standing room-only crowds at anthropology conferences, and the public remains enthralled with our hobbit cousin. No doubt Morwood’s discovery will continue to fire imaginations and inspire new inquiries for many more years to come.
Few places off the California coast are more mysterious than the Farallon Islands. Located just 27 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge, the collection of barely inhabitable staccato peaks are hardly ever seen. It is only on a clear day – if you squint really hard – that you might be able to make them out. Otherwise, the islands are shrouded in fog and known among locals solely as the feeding grounds for white sharks.
Mystery around the Farallones dates back to the beginning of human history. Native Americans refused to step foot on the islands. They believed them to be haunted and would occasionally boat out dead bodies for water burials. It was not until the 19th-century Gold Rush days when food shortages were rampant in San Francisco that settlers really began exploring the islands. Back then, foragers would hunt for the eggs of common murres to include in popular dishes such as Hangtown fry, a Californian omelette-style meal made of eggs, bacon and oysters.
The US military put a radar station on the Farallones during World War II and assigned a few people to live out there. After the war, the islands became a protected wildlife refuge, and today only scientific researchers are allowed on land. Tourists are relegated to boat tours – which is why I was standing on the deck of the Kitty Kat on a sunny Sunday morning.
“All aboard for a trip to the Galapagos of the west!” bellowed Captain Joe Nazar of San Francisco Whale Tours. This moniker is well suited to the islands. In addition to white sharks, the Gulf of the Farallones has some of the most nutrient-rich waters in the northern hemisphere, making it a perfect place to go whale watching.
A bumpy journey Myself and 47 other camera-ready wildlife seekers headed out of the harbour. The waters were clear and calm as we motored pass Alcatrazand under the Golden Gate Bridge. Pretty soon though, things started getting a little wavy.
“The Gulf of the Farallones is a very challenging body of water,” said Mary Jane Schramm, spokesperson for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. “Those intrepid enough to venture outside the Golden Gate will find a whole other wild world out there.”
Schramm explained that San Francisco sits astride the California Current, which moves south along the coast and causes upwelling – water movement that brings nutrients from the bottom of the ocean to the top. Strong winds run nearly parallel to the current, creating even more turbulence. This movement is beneficial to wildlife because, Schramm explained, “it stirs up the ocean. That’s why we are a destination feeding area for everything: blue whales, grey whales, humpback whales, seals, birds, you name it.”
Back on the boat, I was getting the distinct impression that my fellow passengers were feeling a little “stirred up” too. The one-way trip to the islands takes more than two hours; by 90 minutes in, more than half of my shipmates had lost their breakfasts.
Land, ahoy Soon enough, cameras were being whipped around in the direction of the peaks that were jutting out of the water. “Ok, folks, keep your eyes out for spouts. There should be a lot of whales out today,” Nazar announced. None of us blinked for what seemed like an eternity. As I felt my eyes starting to dry out, I heard a yell from the other side of the boat and turned around just in time to see a spout rise into the air.
“That is a grey whale,” Kim Workman, the naturalist accompanying the boaat, beamed. We were all mesmerised. The whale rose about 5ft above the water, showing a sliver of its back and a cluster of cream coloured barnacles, and then dove back down. Before long, we saw another spout, this time a humpback, as it came up for air.
As our ship drew closer to the islands, we could see lunar landmasses with no vegetation and rocky brown soil. We also spotted a scientist standing on a cliff, waiting to get picked up by a research boat via crane (there are no docks or beaches on the islands). It was as though we were looking at another planet.
Our boat motored in the relatively calm waters near the islands. We saw flocks of birds and then another spout, this one sandwiched between our boat and the islands and much larger than any we had seen. The flat, black-looking skin of the whale peaked above the water for just a few seconds before submerging again. “Oh my goodness, folks, that is a blue whale!” Workman yelled from the deck. Nazar chimed in too: “Ladies and gentleman, this is spectacular. We call this a trifecta – seeing three different types of whales in one day.”
Leaving the islands, the group was abuzz with excitement. As the Farallon Islands once again disappeared from view and San Francisco became clearer, I think all of us – even those now on empty stomachs – felt it was a special day.
Practicalities Whale watching is a near year-round activity in the Farallones. December through May is the best time to see the migration of grey whales, though May through November is a great time to see humpbacks, blue whales, 12 species of birds and up to 23 species of marine mammals.
There are a few companies that offer whale-watching tours, includingSan Francisco Whale Tours and the Oceanic Society. Dress warmly with trousers, a sweatshirt and a jacket. Regardless of the time of year, it can get chilly on the water.
Keep drinking your morning cup of joe, coffee drinkers. Aside from a jolt of energy, caffeinated coffee may lower the suicide risk in men and women by 50 percent, Harvard researchers indicated in a recent study.
The results, published earlier this month in the The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry, were striking. Comparatively, the suicide risk for those who drank two to four cups per day was about 50 percent less than the risk for subjects in the other groups. (The total sample included more than 200,000 participants, who were studied for time spans of at least 16 years.)
"Unlike previous investigations, we were able to assess association of consumption of caffeinated and non-caffeinated beverages, and we identify caffeine as the most likely candidate of any putative protective effect of coffee," lead researcher Michel Lucas, a research fellow in the university's department of nutrition, said in a statement.
The team's findings are, perhaps, not surprising since caffeinated coffee has been linked to a lower risk of depression among women in the past. In a 2011 study, also conducted by Harvard researchers, women who drank coffee were shown to have a 15 percent reduced risk of depression as compared to non-coffee drinkers.
Speaking to The Huffington Post, Lucas stressed that it's the caffeine in coffee that's primarily responsible for these effects. He linked the lowered risks of depression and suicide to the impact caffeine has on the brain or, more specifically, on neurotransmitters that have been shown to have an effect on emotions.
And while other drinks like soda and tea also offer caffeine, they don't contain nearly the same levels as coffee.
"Caffeine from coffee is about 80 percent caffeine intake," Lucas estimated. "In one cup of coffee, you could have about 140 mg of caffeine."
"In tea, for example, you have about 47 mg," he told HuffPost, adding that someone would need about three more cups of tea to achieve the same effect as one cup of coffee.
However, as the researchers indicated in the study, moderation is still key. (Though caffeine intoxication was already a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the latest version, DSM-5, added caffeine withdrawal as a related diagnosis.)
"Overall, our results suggest that there is little further benefit for consumption above two to three cups/day or 400 mg of caffeine/day," the authors wrote.
The Harvard study joins a growing body of scientific evidence, which has provided confirmation of the health benefits of coffee.
You may have wondered why certain elements of our government (Hello Senator McCain!) are pushing for the U.S. to "intervene" in Syria, especially now that it looks like the Assad regime is coming out on top and the al Qaeda "freedom fighters" are losing and fighting among themselves.
Iran, Iraq, and Syria have signed a deal for the construction of the Middle East’s largest gas pipeline, which would transit Iranian gas from Iran’s South Pars gas field to Europe via Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea.
Iraqi Oil Minister Abdelkarim al-Luaybi, Syrian Oil Minister Sufian Allaw, and Iranian caretaker Oil Minister Mohammad Aliabadi inked the memorandum of understanding for the construction of the pipeline on Monday in the southern Iranian port of Assalouyeh, which is the nation’s gas hub.
According to the deal, Iranian gas will be transited to Greece and other European countries via a 6,000-kilometer pipeline crossing thorough Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon and under the Mediterranean Sea.
“The overall cost of the project is estimated to be around $10 billion,” Iranian Deputy Oil Minister Javad Ouji said after the signing ceremony, the Mehr News Agency reported.
The construction of the pipeline, stretching for several thousand kilometers, “should take three to five years, once funding is secured,” Ouji, who is also the chairman of the National Iranian Gas Company (NIGC), stated on Sunday.
According to the plan, within a month, three working groups are to be established to examine the technical, financial, and legal aspects of the project, which has been under discussion since 2008.
“Soon the feasibility studies will be given to an international consultant,” Ouji stated, but he gave no timetable.
Hopefully, the final agreement for the project can be signed before the end of the year, the Iranian deputy oil minister said on Sunday.
Iran has the second largest proven gas reserves in the world after Russia.
Iraq has said that it needs 10 to 15 million cubic meters of Iranian gas per day.
By 2020, Syria will need about 15 to 20 million cubic meters of gas per day and Lebanon will need about five to seven million cubic meters of gas per day.
According to projections, Iran’s gas output will double in the next two or three years due to the expansion of gas fields, which will make it possible for the country to export 250 million cubic meters of gas per day.
Earlier this month, Iran and Iraq discussed cooperation on the transfer of Iranian gas through Iraq and Syria to Europe during Iranian First Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi’s visit to Baghdad.
The Iraqi ambassador to Iran, Mohammad Majeed al-Sheikh, said on July 5 that the gas deal would allow Baghdad to use Iran’s natural gas supplies.
It is projected that when it is completed, the pipeline will have the capacity to pump 110 million cubic meters of natural gas per day.
Offenses attack; defenses react. This is a truism, but it's a truism on which almost all sports strategy is built. In the NFL today, no tactic more pressingly requires a swift, strong reaction than the so-called "read-option."
Last fall, these plays — common in college football but relatively new to the NFL — brought havoc. As one SEC offensive line coach put it, watching NFL teams try to defend the read-option was like stepping into a time machine: The poor technique, naive tactics, and ugly results were like seeing college defenses try to defend these plays, but a decade ago.1
The solace for the league's defensive coordinators is that the history of football is littered with strategies that were unstoppable one day and obsolete the next. And, despite last season's missteps, the NFL's premier defensive coaches aren't being shy about the future of the read-option: They don't think it has one. "That's the flavor of the month," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin declared, adding, "We look forward to eliminating it." Their reasoning is simple: Stopping the read-option is mission-critical for every coaching staff. "Everybody, like us, is going to do their due diligence in the offseason," said Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano at the NFL owners meetings. "We feel very confident from a defensive perspective that we can come up with some scheme and we can get those schemes taught."
These pronouncements are bold, but, until they're backed up on the field, they're empty. NFL coaches have been understandably vague about just how they plan to stop the read-option. Even with all of last fall to focus on answers, teams still struggled, which led to the question of where solutions could be found.
The most common method of research was visiting with college defensive coaches who have spent much of the last decade locked in life-or-death struggles with the read-option. To stop the read-option, ostensibly a "college" scheme, NFL coaches have gone back to school. Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy sent his entire staff to visit with Kevin Sumlin's staff at Texas A&M, and Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers separately spent time with Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who faced Colin Kaepernick and his Pistol Offense for years at Hawaii and then Utah State. I've been told of visits from NFL coaches — some official, some very off-the-record — to schools as diverse as Stanford, Oklahoma State, Clemson, Alabama, Vanderbilt, BYU, and Florida State, where the primary topic of discussion was how to stop, or at least slow, the read-option.
Pro coaches can spend as much time as they'd like searching for a magic read-option cure-all on college campuses. They aren't going to find one. College defensive coordinators are as likely to complain about the difficulty of defending the multifaceted offenses so prevalent in college football as they are to claim they have all the answers. And a quick perusal of any Saturday afternoon games — or a statistics page — shows that the read-option is hardly being stamped out in the college ranks. The read-option poses real problems, problems that demand more than one solution.
Privately, NFL coaches have admitted as much, but that doesn't mean they aren't still confident. No one believes the league will happen upon a single answer that can defeat these schemes once and for all. The confidence is a result of coaches rethinking the nature of the challenge. Intelligently defending a great read-option team is no different from defending a team led by a great "traditional" quarterback. When defenses face quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, or Aaron Rodgers, they don't show the exact same coverage every single play and assume they have "solved" those quarterbacks and their offenses. The only hope is to stay disciplined and react with a variety of looks, hoping not to stifle an offense completely, but to merely stay one small step ahead.
Read-option plays force defenses to approach reacting to offenses much differently. With traditional approaches, the quarterback knows before the play whether he will either hand the ball off or keep it. In the read-option, the quarterback, typically aligned in the shotgun, will "read" the movements of a particular defensive player, one the offense has specifically chosen not to block. It's based on this player's actions that the quarterback makes his decision — hence the (redundant) term "read-option." "Whenever the guy who takes the snap is a threat to run, it changes all the math of defenses," Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano said in 2012. "It changes the numbers — minus one." Last season, many NFL defenses repeatedly failed this basic calculus and tried to defend run games with six to eight offensive threats — blockers or potential runners — while undermanned by one, two, or even three defenders.
The read-option forces defenses to bring in additional defenders to stop the run — but that's only the first step.2 According to 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, on read-option plays, offenses are "not even blocking one of the guys at the point of attack, so it actually becomes 11 against 10 if they do it right. So, the numbers are flipped" (from a typical running play, in which the quarterback doesn't have to be accounted for). Read-option plays get a three-for-one: They add an additional offensive player whom defenses have to worry about, allow the offense to get additional blocks and double-teams by leaving a frontal defender unblocked, and allow the offense to "block" a defense's most fearsome defender — think DeMarcus Ware or Jason Pierre-Paul — with a player who has probably never blocked anyone in his life: the quarterback.
When the read-option first became prevalent in college football, defenses tried to defend it the same way they defended traditional run plays. "The defense fit defenders into every gap to the run side of the zone play," zone-read inventor Rich Rodriguez explained at a recent coaches clinic. "The backside defenders ran as fast as they could to the ball and watched for the cutback." In other words, the defense cared only about the running back and essentially ignored the quarterback. The only job of the defensive players away from the run's initial path was to stop the back from escaping out the back side. "That has all changed," Rodriguez said. "Defenses fit the front side of the defense one way and fit the back side another way because the quarterback is a threat to run the ball."
Now, defenses must use a variety of tactics against read-option plays. The most popular changeup is the "scrape " or "gap exchange," in which the backside defensive end and linebacker swap responsibilities — the end crashes for the running back while the linebacker "scrapes" for the quarterback. When the quarterback sees the end crash, his read is to pull the ball and keep it, a choice that will result in him running directly into a waiting linebacker.3
That second player doesn't even have to be a linebacker. Alabama, which has won three national championships in four years and boasts the best defense in college football, constantly varies the defenders assigned to the quarterback. When Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart gives a "force" call, he explains, that leads to a gap replacement with the defensive end. "The quarterback sees the crashing end and pulls the ball," Smart says. "We roll the free safety down to the line of scrimmage and he has the quarterback." And all this varies based on the opponent. "If the quarterback is a better runner, we make him give to the tailback," said Smart. "If the tailback is the better runner, we give the force call, and the defensive end crashes inside and makes the quarterback pull the ball."
Not all the problems with defending these plays last season were tactical. NFL defenders not used to the read-option frequently lacked the mastery of the subtle techniques that made them All-Pros against traditional attacks. Backside defenders — usually the very player the quarterback is reading — have an especially difficult job. "The defensive end gets the shaft because he has to play two aspects: the dive, the bend of the dive to the inside out to the QB," says Aranda, the Wisconsin defensive coordinator. This fundamental problem is also why the old just-hit-the-quarterback tactic is not optimal, at least as an every-down strategy. If the defensive end or linebacker gets upfield too quickly, that means he is not squeezing the cutback and may be opening up a huge lane for the quarterback.
In defense of the NFL coaches, the sudden proliferation of the read-option in the NFL meant they had to get up to speed on a lot, fast. Unlike college defensive coaches, who got to watch the read-option slowly evolve over the past 15 years, NFL coaches were, almost overnight, asked to ace a 400-level read-option course, including all the mutations that took years to develop at the college level.
The variation that did the most damage in the NFL last season can be primarily credited to Chris Ault, Kaepernick's college coach and the architect of the so-called Pistol Offense, which the Redskins and 49ers and others then adapted to their own systems.
This wrinkle, known as a "zone bluff" or "samurai," in Ault's terminology, adds another offensive player to the blocking scheme — typically either a fullback or a tight end. This player's job is to "arc" around and block the outside linebacker — the very defender who will take the quarterback in the scrape exchange. This is the play that incinerated the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs, when they were repeatedly outmanned and out of position in trying to stop San Francisco's read-option-plus-a-lead-blocker attack.
Even these higher-level read-option problems have answers, though. "The Will [weakside] linebacker widens with that [arc] block," explained Mark Stoops, former Florida State defensive coordinator and current Kentucky head coach, at a coaching clinic. "The defensive end squeezes to the dive back. If the quarterback pulls the ball, the defensive end pursues inside to outside. The Will linebacker squeezes the arc and forces the ball back into the end. He wants to condense the space. The free safety cheats down, fills the alley, and helps the Will linebacker play the quarterback." To stop the zone bluff arc — a play that combines the finesse of the college read-option with the power-based blocking the NFL adores — defenses must similarly use tactics and personnel that combine speed with strength.
So long as the battles are on notepads and whiteboards instead of on the field, both offensive and defensive coaches can claim the upper hand. But when the season starts, there will be trade-offs — on both sides. For defenses, a commitment to shutting down the read-option necessarily creates potential problems elsewhere. "There is," according to Stoops, "a weakness to every call we make." The goal is to hide and vary the weaknesses.
Requiring safeties and other typically pass-first defenders to spend so much time focused on the running game is dangerous in the pass-heavy NFL. Last season did prove, though, that keeping safeties deep and being repeatedly gashed by the run is not much of an answer, either. "The zone read is something I learned throughout … the year that I think really helped us. It's the least pass rush I've ever seen as a coordinator. Guys just sitting there just scared to death just watching everyone else not moving," said Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan recently. "I go crazy thinking about blitzes every week, how we're going to pick all this stuff up. About halfway through the year I'm starting to realize that we're not getting any of these blitzes that I used to see."
But that doesn't mean NFL defenses won't blitz much this season. I fully expect defensive coaches to be far more aggressive against the read-option this fall, although — unlike many of their schemes last season — those blitzes must be "option sound" and have defenders schooled in the proper techniques assigned to each potential runner. The read-option doesn't eliminate blitzing, but it does eliminate some of the crazier blitzes — five defenders to one side or three defenders in the same gap — that had caused problems for traditional attacks.
Of course, the trade-off for offenses who use these plays is obvious — if your quarterback is a potential (or actual) runner, then he will potentially (or actually) get hit by very large, very fast defensive players. This, as much as any tactical challenge, seems to be the real reason NFL defensive coaches aren't quaking at the prospect of the proliferation and improvement of schemes they really had no answer for last season. "The problem is for those quarterbacks, one of these days one of them is not going to walk off," Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said recently. "It's a lot of pressure on him to physically do that." The NFL writ large — coaches, general managers, other executives, and owners — have spent the past 30-plus years devising increasingly elaborate ways of doing two things: (1) paying quarterbacks more, and (2) protecting them on the field, through both scheme and rule changes. The read-option makes the quarterback a constant target.
This reality may very well lead these plays to vanish, but there's also plenty of reason to think that, executed correctly, they pose no more risk than a traditional pass play, during which a quarterback — eyes focused downfield, arm extended, unable to protect himself — is a sitting target. A properly restrained quarterback should slide or get out of bounds essentially anytime he pulls the ball on a read-option play, and a major reason why NFL teams like Ault's arc blocking scheme is that it adds a personal protector for the quarterback.
All of this will be settled where these questions always are — on the field. Five years from now, NFL offenses might be unrecognizable to a fan from the 1990s or 2000s, or the read-option could be a distant memory, a short-lived aberration. That extinction would start now, following an offseason during which the NFL's best defensive minds operated with the single-minded goal of shutting down these plays.
The lower levels of football are always going to be more experimental than the inherently conservative NFL, as hundreds or even thousands of teams, many of them lacking even basic resources, grasp for any advantage they can get as part of a collection of teams with disparate talent. Rich Rodriguez famously said his staff invented the zone read at lowly Glenville State because they were "just trying to get a first down." NFL teams, by contrast, are awash in facilities, technology, a relatively open market for players, and, maybe most important of all, time — time for coaches, who don't have to zip around the country recruiting, and for players, who are full-time professionals. And yet, for an idea to be an essential part of football history, it must be able to withstand, and evolve in response to, the scrutiny of the all-day, every-day nature of the NFL. If it dies out, it dies out, and the answers that defensive coaches developed for it this offseason will be added to their permanent repertoires. But if the read-option can stand up to that onslaught, it means a concept born on the dirt practice fields of backwater colleges will have become entrenched at the highest level of football, in a form and status its creators never thought possible.