The concept is simple: Instead of college and high school teams taking new ideas from NFL teams, NFL teams are taking new ideas from college and high school teams.
“I think it’s probably a trickle up effect,” Kelly said. “So it’s not like when you start to introduce a concept to some [players], they don’t understand it. There’s a lot of guys that are coming up through the college ranks that are now in the NFL that have done it at the college level.”
Kelly was talking specifically about tempo — the concept that an offence should play quickly and run as many plays as possible in a game. But his “trickle up” idea applies to a bunch of different offensive innovations.
In Thursday night’s Seahawks-Packers game, we got a perfect example of what trickle up looks like.
In the second quarter the Seahawks scored a touchdown on this awesome play:
Chris Brown has an excellent, wonky breakdown of the play here. It’s a read-option (where the quarterback can either hand it off and run it himself) with an additional passing option. Russell Wilson can hand it off, run it himself, or throw it here.
The read-option has been incorporated into a bunch of different NFL offenses in recent years. But this read-option play with a passing component is new … at least to the NFL.
Last December Auburn, under coach Guz Malzahn, used the same exact play to score on Alabama:
After the game Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told SI’s Peter King that he got the idea from Malzahn:
“We’ll go anywhere to find a play. And that one — uh, Muschamp at Florida, no … Auburn. They ran it. Give Gus Malzahn credit. That’s a great play. I kept telling them [the offensive staff and players] this summer, ‘It will work, it will work.’ But it didn’t work all summer.”
College and even high school is where all the innovation is going on. Kelly spent a decade at New Hampshire honing his up-tempo offence before going to Oregon to let it loose on the world. Malzahn was coaching high school football less than 10 years ago.
Things that were initially derided as “gimmicks” by traditionalists — up-tempo, the pistol, the read-option, those funny signs — are now mainstays for the best teams in college football.
If progressive figures like Kelly, Carroll, and even Bill Belichick (who consulted Kelly when he was still at Oregon) continue to succeed with elements stolen from college teams, the rest of the NFL will follow suit.
NFL coaches are combing the lower rungs of football for experiments and concepts that could work on the highest level. As a result, the pro game — historically staid and conservative in nature — will inevitably move closer to what we’re seeing in college. And for anyone who watches the joyful chaos that is Baylor’s offence every week, it’s going to make the sport much more exciting.
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