The Panthers are credited with popularizing the read option in the NFL, bringing it in with Rob Chudzinski and Cam Newton in 2011.
But that doesn’t mean the Panthers couldn’t learn more.
Ron Rivera and his staff spent time the past two offseasons with college coaches, bringing them into the facilities to learn more about not only running zone read but also defending against it.
Seattle, Carolina’s Sunday opponent, is one of those teams that caught the fever last year. With second-year quarterback Russell Wilson and Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks present a potent threat familiar to the Panthers.
“They got obviously a great running back and a quarterback who can make plays with both his arm and his feet,” defensive tackle Dwan Edwards said. “Those are the main keys we need to focus on.
“I think we’ve seen enough of it in practice, and I guess we’ll find out. We’ll keep working on it and they do a great job doing it. It’ll definitely be something we have to be up on but I think we’re getting enough reps on it.”
In the past two weeks, the Panthers have increased their reps with the zone read look. Carolina had seldom used zone read during training camp, but as the preseason progressed, the Panthers added more looks to better prepare both sides of the ball.
The more Carolina’s first-team offense practices zone read, the more the defense can learn to defend against it.
It was zone read that caught Carolina’s defense off balance for the first half of the second exhibition against the Philadelphia Eagles, who had 257 yards and two touchdowns by halftime.
“When you go back and look at it, we were stagnant at the line,” coach Ron Rivera said. “When the ball was snapped everybody was trying to see where the quarterback was going. It was our first real shot against the zone read.
“You could also go back and look at it, once we settled in and attacking and do the things we’re capable of, we were able to handle it a lot better. I think it was a good lesson for us to learn.”
The read option allows Wilson to either hand the ball off to his running back, run or throw it. Those options freeze opposing defenses, and that’s why the trend is sweeping the NFL.
No fewer than eight teams are expected to run the read option this year, and Rivera says it’s a good system for young quarterbacks who spent two to four years in college running the read option. But now teams are starting to throw in wrinkles, and that’s where Wilson’s athleticism comes into play.
Because of his quickness, the Seahawks move him out of the pocket and onto the edges to give him clearer passing lanes.
“He allows us to do everything we want to do,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “We love throwing him out of the pocket, we love moving the quarterback in play action and all that. He’s comfortable in all of it. We do whatever we want with him and he can handle it. He is adept at finding passing lanes and part of it is moving him around so he can really take advantage of his mobility.”
Last year against the Panthers, Wilson went 19 of 25 for 221 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He wassacked twice.
The Panthers’ plan is to contain him from the outside-in, because when he gets out of the pocket, Wilson can create problems.
“You got to latch on to receivers longer and you have to play a little bit longer than you expect to play as the standard cornerback,” Panthers second-year cornerback Josh Norman said. “His receivers make up routes. And when they make up routes you say, ‘Oh shoot, I did not see this on film.’
“So I have to continue to stay with the guy because if I don’t they’ll catch a 30-yard play that was broken and it’s something really ridiculous to get yelled at on the sideline.”
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9
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