BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Count the Chicago Bears among the hordes of NFL coaching staffs invading college campuses around the nation this past offseason looking to tap into secrets for how to shut down the read-option offense.
"We spent significant time in the offseason looking at the read zone; more time this offseason than last," Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. "There were quite a few different defensive coaches at the combine talking about it, at the Senior Bowl and stuff like that. It's prevalent."
It's working too for the time being.
The Bears learned the hard way in 2012, with two of their losses coming at the hands of teams -- San Francisco and Seattle -- that utilize read-option principles fairly extensively. Interestingly, had Chicago defeated the 49ers and Seahawks, it would have finished 2012 with a 12-4 record, and a playoff berth that likely would have led to ownership retaining former head coach Lovie Smith.
Even with a new staff in place, the Bears won't ever acknowledge how ill-prepared the former staff was in 2012 when the club faced the 49ers on Nov. 19, which just happened to be the first NFL start for quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was filling in for an injured Alex Smith. Up to that point, the Bears had seen just a limited amount of tape on Kaepernick, who spent a good portion of his time early in the season playing gimmick roles.
"You don't know when you're going to see it, but when you do see it, you want to have a plan or an idea of what you want to do about it," Tucker said.
Chicago, and nobody else around the league for that matter, had not seen an offense built specifically around Kaepernick until the night he and the 49ers torched the Bears.
Sure, Chicago played with a backup quarterback and a leaky offensive line. But San Francisco came charging out the gates at Candlestick Park that night flashing a plethora of looks early on that Chicago's defense clearly hadn't prepared for. The numbers quickly bore that out.
Kaepernick hit 10 of 12 for 178 yards and a touchdown on San Francisco's first four drives, which included gains of 57, 32, 23, 22 and 20 yards. Over those first four possessions, the 49ers scored two TDs and two field goals to take a 20-0 lead at the half.
Having already seen a similar offense once, the Bears fared better two weeks later when they faced Seattle, but still fell 23-17 in overtime when Russell Wilson marched the Seahawks 80 yards on 12 plays during the opening drive of overtime, before finally hitting Sidney Rice for a 13-yard touchdown.
Considering the Bears play two read-option teams this season on the road in Washington and Philadelphia with mobile quarterbacks, coupled with the way the team lost two crucial matchups (a win in just one of those games could have changed the outcome of the season) in 2012 to read-option teams, the club figured it was worth it to spend a major chunk of the offseason learning to defend against it.
Having done so like other teams in the NFL, the belief within the organization, and generally around the league is the read-option offense will become much easier stop because of all the attention teams are devoting to studying it.
"Now, you're anticipating seeing it," Tucker said. "We're gonna see it. I look at it just like any other type of deal when there's spread sets, no backs, a lot of empty or bunch, or when the toss sweep was going crazy, some of those things. It kind of goes in cycles. It's just a preparation type of deal. What we do as coaches is we study the teams. We study the tape. We gather ideas and things like that.
"Most of us have coached in college ball. I spent eight years in college before I came to the NFL (Tucker's college stops include two stints with Nick Saban at Michigan State and LSU, and stops at Ohio State, and Miami of Ohio). When we would play Northwestern, they really broke it out in a big way too back in the day with those guys. So you have to bring out some of those principles, see how it fits into your scheme, and then work it. I think it's just a due diligence thing."