NFL DEFENSES are going to have to make a huge adjustment. Assuming that Vince Young of Texas comes out for the draft as a junior, a mobile quarterback will be taken among the top picks for the third time in six years--and in each case, by a team that has no intention of turning him into a pocket passer. Around the league, defensive coordinators will tweak their game plans to stop these multifaceted weapons.
Michael Vick of the Atlanta Falcons, the first pick in the 2001 draft, is leading the charge. He was rushing 6.9 times per game at week's end and has no plans to alter his style. "Running backs get hit a lot more than I do, so I don't worry about taking a few more hits than a pocket quarterback," Vick says. "I can survive." With the No. 1 choice in '05 the San Francisco 49ers selected Alex Smith, who averaged 11.4 carries at Utah. While he won't replicate that rate in the pros, he's going to take off when he knows he can make a play with his legs.
Then there's Young. At 6'5" and 233 pounds, he may represent the position's most formidable running threat. In three years Young has rushed 438 times (for 2,927 yards and 34 touchdowns) and passed 678 (for 5,773 yards and 44 TDs). Says Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian, "You have to defend guys like Vick and Young the way you defended option guys in college."
Polian has emphasized speed in recent drafts--the Colts' three starting linebackers average only 231 pounds, and all can drop into pass coverage. In addition, each of their four tackles weighs less than 300 pounds. If quarterbacks are going to run more, Indy will be ready. The rest of the league better be too.
IN ARM'S WAY A quarterback will be taken first in the draft--Young, who needs work on his sidearm delivery, or USC's Matt Leinart.
QB SHUFFLE The Chargers will re-sign quarterback Drew Brees, then trade backup Philip Rivers to the Jets for their top pick in 2007.
T.O. TO GO With the approval of the team's leaders--and with a deal that's better than the Cowboys'--Terrell Owens will sign with Denver.
BOB ROSATO (VICK)
FLEET'S IN Vick sets the pace for the mobile QBs.