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NFL column: Mobile QBs changing game

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 09:08 AM
TAMPA -

In these pass-happy times, NFL quarterbacks still do the bulk of their damage from the pocket.

But when the new breed takes off on the run, that's when the real heartache begins. Six of the nine quarterbacks who rushed for more than 250 yards this season led their clubs into the playoffs, representing half the postseason field.

Three were rookies – Washington's Robert Griffin III, Seattle's Russell Wilson and Indianapolis' Andrew Luck – while San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick and Minnesota's Christian Ponder are second-year pros.

The only veteran in the group is Aaron Rodgers of the Packers, who runs just often and well enough to bedevil defensive backs.

"People have all kinds of arguments with the guys playing today,'' Hall of Fame quarterback and ESPN analyst Steve Young said. "If you have learned the position, which is to deliver the ball from the pocket, if you've mastered it, you're on your way. But being able to move around is just a huge advantage … fact.''

Luck and Griffin were eliminated in the opening playoff round, but Wilson heads into the Georgia Dome today to take on the NFC's No. 1 seed.

While Griffin and second-year pro Cam Newton combined for 1,556 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground, Wilson ran for 489 yards as a third-round draft pick out of Wisconsin.

The Seahawks take a six-game winning streak into today's matchup and Wilson's 27 touchdown passes topped Peyton Manning's previous record for rookie quarterbacks.

"They've kind of changed their offensive philosophy with the new quarterback and he's doing an outstanding job,'' Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "Russell Wilson can extend plays. When he goes back to pass, he's a guy that can turn a five-second play into 12 or 13 seconds. That can cause issues for guys in coverage.''

The old quarterback vanguard was still well represented as Manning and Tom Brady led the Broncos and Patriots to the AFC's top two playoff seeds.

But the times they are a-changin' and the next generation of NFL quarterbacks relishes the opportunity to stay one step ahead of the defense.

"I think it's truly about the preparation and it comes well before we get them,'' Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "It goes way back to junior high and high school and everyone's throwing the ball. Now we're seeing the really fast guys that have added the running element. The league has shifted. In a league that changes so slowly, it's exciting to see there's been a shift.''

Wait until Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel joins the wild bunch.

Young's mobility was dazzling during a 15-year NFL career that saw the one-time Buccaneer retire with 4,239 rushing yards and 43 touchdowns on the ground.

"I think you're going to see that people will see the benefits of mobile quarterbacks in the long-term,'' Young said. "Now, Peyton and Tom have forever proven me wrong on that, but I think you're starting to see the potential for what mobile quarterbacks can do, especially on third down.''

Some Bucs fans wouldn't mind seeing quarterback Josh Freeman scramble more. Freeman's rushing totals plunged from 364 yards in 2010 to 139 last season, when Tampa Bay missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.

"As soon as a mobile quarterback learns the job, Andrew Luck is probably going to be the first one that gets there, that's when you get to complete capitulation of defenses,'' Young said. "They just don't know what to do. You've seen RG III do that at times this year as a rookie and you've seen Russell Wilson do that as a rookie. It's incredible the things these guys can accomplish.''


ikaufman@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7833 Twitter; @IKaufmanTBO

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