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Ben Smith

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Seattle’s Russell Wilson is one of several young NFL quarterbacks to find a great deal of success this season.

‘Gimmick’ offenses help young QBs adapt

And here you thought Vince Lombardi was rattling around some celestial sideline these days, shaking his fist at Tom Landry and wondering why the heck the heavenly host was always grab-grab-grabbin’ out there, as opposed to tacklin’.

Silly you. Saint Vince is in Baltimore, where he’s apparently taken up residence in Ravens’ linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo’s soul.

Spiritual possession is surely the culprit here, after Ayanbadejo got on his Twitter feed Sunday and – say what? – Lombardi began tweeting instead. Who else would call the Patriots’ speed no-huddle a “gimmick,” even as it piled up 457 yards, 7 yards per play and 41 points? Who else would compare it to a “cheap shot b4 a fight”?

Contempt like that is so old-school; you can smell the chalk on its breath, and it springs from the suddenly elderly notion that if you try what works in college in the NFL, they’ll have to use a Dustbuster to pick you up when you’re done. The Shield is a whole other animal than college, the thinking goes, and never the twain shall meet.

Well. Except for when Bill Belichick swipes the Oregon no-huddle and confounds the Houston Texans with it.

Or when Jim Harbaugh turns loose Colin Kaepernick on Green Bay, and Kaepernick employs a very collegiate-looking read option to gash the Packers for 181 yards rushing and two touchdowns, plus 263 yards passing and two more touchdowns.

That’s 444 total yards if you’re adding it up at home, and if that number suggests the Packers were utterly bewildered by what Kaepernick was doing to them, you’re dead on.

Team Cheez Whiz looked like your dotty old uncle trying to find his car keys as Kaepernick darted over and around them, averaging 11.3 yards per carry while completing 17 of 31 passes.

And the next day?

Well, the next day, Tom Brady made like an Oregon Duck, and Russell Wilson treated us all to a little Johnny Manziel, extending plays with his feet and his wits and torturing the Falcons with 445 total yards.

Wilson ran for 60 yards and a touchdown on just seven carries, threw for 385 yards and two more scores on 24-of-36 passing, and nearly pulled out a dazzling come-from-behind victory.

And, sure, OK, maybe this is just a phase, the way everything is a phase in the NFL. The Cowboy Flex, the West Coast offense, the Packer sweep: Where are they now?

But if this is a phase, it’s a sea of change as well. No one ever seriously tried to run the Texas Longhorn wishbone in the NFL, because the pursuit speed of pro defenses rendered it impotent.

What they’re running in college now, though, is clearly far more sophisticated, and much more in line with the pro philosophy that speed is the most lethal thing in the game.

This explains why smart guys like Belichick and Harbaugh are incorporating college elements in their offenses, and why the NFL is suddenly flush with kid quarterbacks – Wilson, Kaepernick, RGIII, Andrew Luck – who seem to have it figured out in a way kid quarterbacks never did. When the game you played at Directional Tech no longer seems utterly alien in an NFL landscape, the learning curve shallows up in a hurry for the more gifted of the college guys.

And the learning curve for the Brendon/Vince old school brigade?

Welcome to the Himalayas, suddenly.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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