The NFL has taken it upon themselves to outline their points of emphasis to a few rules, specifically the rules pertaining to low hits and the rules around hitting a quarterback executing read option plays.
In an officiating video distributed to the media, NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino says that read-option quarterbacks can be hit like runners, even if they don't have the ball. If a quarterback who handed off or pitched the ball is still carrying out a fake in a running posture, he can be tackled the same way he would be if he still had the ball.
"He is still treated as a runner until he is clearly out of the play. The quarterback makes the pitch, he's still a runner - he can be hit like a runner until he's clearly out of the play."
The quarterback and the running back, they're both treated as runners. We don't know who has the football, we don't know who's going to take it, so both players are treated as runners.
The basic concept is, the quarterback position is not defenseless throughout the down. It's the posture he presents that will dictate his protections."
Ah, gray area. Just what we all were hoping for. Posture is the key word that Blandino uses in this video. If he's in a passing posture, he's protected as a quarterback, and if he's in a running posture, he's officiated for under the normal guidelines as a running back.
We shall see. I still believe that the referees will aim to protect quarterbacks when in doubt, but there will surely be some boundary testing in the process.
Regardless, if the Seahawks do end up employing the read option in 2013, fans can take some solace in the fact that Russell Wilson has shown a strong willingness (determination) to get down when he sees hits coming once he gets downfield.
The goal for teams will probably be to have the unblocked defensive end attack the mesh point with ferocity and blow Wilson up, but then again, the Seahawks have shown that they're willing to call designed runs out of these types of looks and this really puts the defensive team in a vulnerable position (i.e., the defensive end is hitting the quarterback while the running back just runs by). I do think we can talk ourselves in circles about how teams will defend the read option and how offenses will counter, but I'm just looking forward to seeing it all in action.
Either way, watch the video, so you know how referees are being taught to call it.