State of the Game: Is the NFL Changing into a New Game?

Scott ReighardAnalyst IJanuary 16, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 12:  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers in actions against the Green Bay Packers during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Candlestick Park on January 12, 2013 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

For those of us who have been around a while, we have seen a lot of changes in football, some good, some bad.

As a college player in the 1980's, I can say that today's game is somewhat of a contradiction—or is seemingly contrary—to what we would think it should be.

When we played back in the 1980's water was a luxury at practice, and that's no bull. We got two breaks in a two-and-a-half hour practice. My son's high school team takes a break about every 20 minutes.  

I suffered to what amounts to three concussions. Only once was I told that I had a concussion, and that I should take some Bayer and try to avoid sleeping for a while. There was rarely any follow up counseling. When the sharp headaches went away and I could count to 10, or convince the trainer that I knew my name, where I was going to school and what day it was, I was considered good to go.

I absolutely kept my head on a swivel when coming across the middle on a route because I knew that our version of Ronnie Lott was waiting to lay the lumber. His name was Vince Turner and he was one bad dude—trust me. My first concussion came at the hands of a crack back block against MLB Mark Copeland who outweighed me by at least 30 pounds.

So, with that brief walk down nostalgia lane, let's talk about the gist of the changing game, and not with just those items mentioned. Did I say I had three concussions?

If you fast forward almost 30 years a lot of technology has gone into the game, and this is where the contrary factor kicks in for me. For all the technology, equipment, fitness, diet and athletic advancements, the game seems to have softened.

There are some obvious changes that have emerged in the NFL recently, and it seems plain that many players have dubbed Commissioner Roger Goodell as Czar or Dictator. I think "Dic"tator is the word used most. The players want to play and are seemingly getting tired of all the fines, etc. So, chalk one up for the Goodell machine and his, "It's my way or the highway" governance.

Other changes have come as well. Excessive celebration....gone. Altering your uniform....gone. Boy, the old Raiders would just hate that. Remember the old torn sleeve look? I am sure eye black will be the next to go because the Czar in Chief might perceive someone who blackens their whole face as invoking the old Amos and Andy images.

But all is not bad. There have been some changes in the actual game as well.

This year we have witnessed some stellar play from young quarterbacks. There were three rookie and three second-year signal-callers that helped to lead their team to the playoffs. If you throw in Joe Flacco for the Ravens and Matt Ryan for the Falcons, eight quarterbacks with four years or less NFL experience were/are in the playoffs.

Given the dynamics of some of these quarterbacks, one would think the game is changing. With RGIII, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, it would be easy to assume that the NFL is morphing into a new game; one where the spread is taking over.

Beginning with Cam Newton's style in Carolina, the only other difference indicator was the "Wildcat" offense. However, it is rare to see the "Wildcat" these days, mostly due to the fact that many of the NFL players running it were/are unaccustomed to doing what the spread or wildcat calls for. You need a quarterback to run it. Which brings me to a possible changing face of the NFL.

I believe, because I am somewhat of a traditionalist, that all this RGIII, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton style of offense will be a phase. Don't get me wrong, these men are all exceptional athletes, but here is where the difference will come in terms of separation.

Eventually those QB's will have to settle in as pocket QB's and defenses will be able to adjust. Unless you are willing to get a guy for 5-6 years until he starts getting killed (or as I like to call it, "Vicked", which is to say, oft injured and unable to play 16 games), then maybe these guys fit the bill.

It's the old Gladiator mentality, fight until they die—or in this case, get injured beyond effective play anymore. Look at RG III already. It's only a matter of time until Wilson and even Kaepernick have to settle into the pocket. I am sure Vikings fans are all too familiar with Culpepper. He was great for 5-6 years (with great WR's), but then on a run—BAM—career virtually ended.

So, before everyone gets so quick to say that a new game has arrived, let us consider all those running QB's who are no longer in the league, or who will become "Vicked" eventually. And, I am not saying these guys are not pocket passers, but seem to be more effective from the pocket because of the running threat. Should they have to settle in the pocket more often than not, defenses will play them differently and their true skill (or lack thereof) might be revealed.

Is one of these young guns a Steve Young?  Steve Young settled into a pocket passer and had a wonderful career. And one other guy that comes to mind that was able to last a while was Donovan McNabb, and it was the Syracuse system he came from that helped his transition.

Will the NFL become the next home of the spread?

If so, you better think about rotating QB's or banking on a new one to replace the other in about 5 years. I think the one who comes out of this the best is Wilson. He had good training at NC State and Wisconsin. RGIII and Kaepernick are from spread systems. Let's see how they play when they have to adjust to a real NFL offense. These tremendous talents will only be able to take so many hits and I worry how they will be years down the line. 

For my money I'll take the pocket passer with running ability rather than the runner with possible pocket presence, so only time will tell how all this plays out.

Perhaps the game changes to this new dimension and we traditionalists quietly retire and acquiesce to progress, but is it progress if football is being reduced to a touch contact sport and no longer seen as Vince Lombardi adequately described it, a "collision sport?"

Only time will tell how the NFL morphs, adapts, or changes via natural or artificial means. As fans we want to be entertained. We see football as a subconscious outlet of acceptable aggression. Take that away, and we might as well watch badminton.

So, is the NFL changing? I am looking for a robust debate on this, so let the comments roll.