49ers to test Vikings with read-option

August, 20, 2013
8/20/13
1:24
PM ET
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Desmond Bishop remembers it well: how helpless he felt sitting out of the Green Bay Packers' 45-31 loss in the NFC divisional playoffs, watching as Colin Kaepernick shredded the Packers' defense for 579 yards with an offense that Bishop, now a member of the Minnesota Vikings, said his old team wasn't ready to face.

"I remember a lot of confusion," Bishop said. "We really weren't prepared for it. That was really his coming-out party."

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesColin Kaepernick passed for 263 yards and ran for 181 more in a playoff win over Green Bay last season.
Kaepernick's performance against the Packers sent talk about the read-option offense to a fever pitch around the game. And even if Bishop didn't get the experience of facing Kaepernick -- he missed all of last season with a torn hamstring -- the game ensured he and the rest of the league would be studying it plenty before this season.

The Vikings haven't played San Francisco since Week 3 last season, when Alex Smith was still the quarterback. And other than a Week 6 loss to the Washington Redskins -- where Robert Griffin III passed for 182 yards and ran for 138 more -- the Vikings' defense has yet to see a heavy dose of the read-option.

That will change this season, when Minnesota faces four teams in a nine-week span that are all likely to run some form of the read-option. That means their third preseason game against the 49ers and Kaepernick -- a game in which both teams' starters will likely play the entire first half -- might double as a refresher course on the NFL's trendiest offense.

Coach Leslie Frazier visited with Chris Ault, Kaepernick's college coach at Nevada, this offseason to learn more about the offense. The Vikings can study their game against the Redskins last season, in which Griffin broke loose for a 76-yard touchdown, and the few instances they saw Seattle's Russell Wilson running read-option plays against them last November.

The matchup against the 49ers, though, gives the Vikings a more reliable indicator of how they'll fare against the attack.

"I know we’ll see it," Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "It’s the flavor of the month for the NFL so a lot of teams are going to it and they’re a team that does it well. So it’s a good tune-up for us to kind of see how we operate and how we’ll do things against our base defenses."

Williams sounded skeptical that the offense will last for years to come, and he might be right; the Wildcat had its day before the read-option did, and it certainly didn't transform the game. But the point the Vikings' defensive coordinator made was that the read-option could die not so much because it stops being effective, but because it puts a team's most expensive asset at risk.

"I think the owners will take care of that to see how much they’ll let their quarterbacks get hit," he said. "We’ll see. I’m not going to make any predictions as far as how long it’ll stay in and what the evolution will be of it down the road. It’s something that the offenses are going to. They had some success last year and we’ll see how much success in the NFL they have with it this year."

In any case, the read-option figures to be around this year, and the Vikings could see plenty of it. They got a taste of a fast-paced offense when they faced EJ Manuel in Buffalo last week, and Kaepernick could test them again.

"I think it's just discipline -- gap integrity, assignment integrity from a defensive standpoint," Bishop said."(It's) nobody trying to do anything extra. Just take your gap, and if the play comes, make it."

Ben Goessling

ESPN Minnesota Vikings reporter

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