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Harbaugh lobbies for protection for 49ers QB Kaepernick

Published: Thursday, Sep. 5, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Thursday, Sep. 5, 2013 - 8:00 am

SANTA CLARA - Coach Jim Harbaugh never has been timid about lobbying officials or the league for a favorable ruling, and he's at it again when it comes to how much abuse defenses should be able to deliver to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick when he runs the read option.

Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews, for example, said this week that the Packers plan to take their "shots" against Kaepernick on Sunday at Candlestick Park and other read-option quarterbacks this season.

"One of the things that the referees have told us is that when these quarterbacks carry out the fakes, they lose their right as a quarterback, a pocket-passing quarterback, the protection of a quarterback," Matthews said Monday on ESPN Radio. "You do have to take your shots on the quarterback, and obviously they're too important to their offense."

An NFL officiating crew came to Santa Clara in August to discuss that and other points of emphasis for this season. Umpire Garth DeFelice supported Matthews' take - even if a quarterback no longer has the ball, he can be hit if he's carrying out a read-option fake, DeFelice told reporters.

Harbaugh, however, called it "a gray area." He said he's been in contact with the league office and will seek more clarification from the officiating crew before Sunday's game. Harbaugh even said all the "tough talk" coming from defensive players this offseason is tantamount to "targeting a specific player." And he likened it to the bounty scandal in New Orleans from two seasons ago.

"You're hearing all the tough talk right now," he said. "You're hearing some intimidating type of talk, the same thing we were hearing a couple of years ago. It sounds a lot like targeting a specific player. You definitely start to wonder.

"A man doesn't usually tell you his bad intentions. And this is being discussed publicly. You know what's being said privately by what's being said publicly. You hope that their intent isn't going to be anything that's outside the rules."

How defenses counter the read option has been a hot topic considering how successful several young quarterbacks - Kaepernick, Washington's Robert Griffin III and Carolina's Cam Newton, for example - were using it last season. And it's especially significant this week since Kaepernick gained 181 rushing yards - an NFL record for a quarterback - when the 49ers beat the Packers in the playoffs in January.

The Packers' coaching staff visited Texas A&M during the offseason to study how to counteract the read option. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy, however, said Wednesday that the bulk of Kaepernick's initial yardage in the playoff game came on scrambles, not designed read-option runs. "The first read option was a 5- or a 6-yard gain," McCarthy said.

Harbaugh often uses his media pulpit to try to influence calls.

Before the 49ers played the Giants last year, for example, he got into a war of words with New York defensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride over whether Justin Smith was guilty of holding offensive linemen. Harbaugh accused Gilbride of using the Giants' "high visibility" to skew the officiating in the game.

Following a midseason win against the Seahawks - and knowing the 49ers would face Seattle again - Harbaugh complained that the Seahawks' aggressive cornerbacks were playing outside the rules.

Kaepernick and his teammates, meanwhile, seemed unconcerned about potential rough treatment from the Packers.

"I think our defensive players would say the same thing about Aaron Rodgers or any quarterback we go against - we want to hit the quarterback," left tackle Joe Staley said.

Said Kaepernick: "It's football. You're going to get hit."

Asked whether college opponents had similar strategies when he ran the read option at Nevada, he said, "They tried just about everything."

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Read Matthew Barrows' blogs and archives at and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320. Follow him on Twitter @mattbarrows.

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Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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