Nobody gave Harbs' comment a second thought in February. Roger Goodell didn't call and threaten him with a Sean Payton-like punishment. There was no outrage from Kaepernick or any of the league's other read-option quarterbacks.
But 7 months later, now that many other coaches around the league are espousing that same hit-'em-hard-and-often philosophy, the posturing has begun.
"You better be careful when you talk about targeting quarterbacks," the Redskins' Robert Griffin III said earlier in the week. "Because that sounds a lot like a bounty to me."
No, Robert, it doesn't. It sounds like a sound - and very legal - way of dissuading teams such as the 49ers and the Redskins and, yes, the Eagles, from making the read option a regular part of their offensive diet.
As Dean Blandino, the NFL's vice president of officiating, has pointed out, it's perfectly legal to hit a quarterback after he hands the ball off if he continues to carry out a fake.
"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."
Griffin, of course, knows this. At one point last year after taking a couple of hits after he handed the ball off, he made mention of how he was going to start to throw his hands up in the air to make it clear to everyone - tacklers and the zebras - that he didn't have the ball. The problem with that is, if you don't carry out the fake, you're taking away a pretty important part of the read option.
Griffin knows that as well.
It's all about posturing right now. Even Jim Harbaugh decided to play the game this week after some Packers players said they were going to take their best shot at Kaepernick tomorrow if the Niners ran the read option. Loud enough for the league office to hear, Harbaugh suggested it sounded an awful lot like bountygate.
"You're hearing a lot of tough talk right now," he said. "You're hearing some intimidating type of talk. The kind of things that, the same things we were hearing a couple of years ago. It sounds a lot like targeting a specific player.
"You definitely start to wonder. A man will usually tell you his bad intentions if you listen. And you wonder, I mean you know what's being said publicly, not what's being said privately. You hope that their intent isn't going to be anything that's not within the rules."
The ball is in the offensive coach's court. The rules make it clear that you can hit the quarterback if he still is carrying out a fake, and defensive players intend to do just that this season.
If coaches such as Harbaugh and the Redskins' Mike Shanahan and the Eagles' Chip Kelly want to keep their quarterbacks out of harm's way, all they have to do is dial down the frequency that they run the read option.
"[The read option] is a portion of what we do," Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "We can do it a bunch, or we can go a game, two games and not do it at all.
"Given an opportunity to hit a quarterback, defenses are going to do it, whether he's dropping back to pass or running around on the perimeter. It's something that's just the nature of the game.
"How it plays out based on whether the quarterback keeps it or gives it [to the running back], we'll just have to see. But I know what the rules are."
Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis won't be putting a bounty on RG3 on Monday night, but he has instructed his players to hit the Redskins quarterback at every legal opportunity, including when he's executing a fake as part of the read option.
Will it dissuade Shanahan from running the read option with Griffin? Probably not as much as Griffin's recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Will the Redskins do the same thing to Michael Vick to try and dissuade Shurmur and Kelly? You can count on it.
"When you run the read option, you're treated like a ballcarrier and you're going to get hit more often," Davis said. "To the degree that it makes them not run it, that's really in the offensive coordinator's hands and each franchise's opinion of how much they want to put their quarterback in harm's way."
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