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5 trends to look for this season

Saturday - 8/24/2013, 12:02am  ET

BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer

In a league where everyone is looking for the new thing that gives them an edge -- and are all too eager to, uh, borrow it from someone else when it works -- NFL trends speed by as quickly as Adrian Peterson on one of his long touchdown bursts.

Here are five trends to pay attention to in 2013. Look carefully, because they could be gone by, say, 2014.

1. ZONE READ OFFENSES: The latest in football jargon, and the newest of attacks to reach the pros, the zone read has become the offense of the day. It doesn't fit everyone -- certainly not the Mannings or Bradys or Roethlisbergers -- but for teams with a mobile quarterback, solid running game and versatile receivers, it can work.

The zone read gives the quarterback the option of keeping the ball or handing it off based on how the defense reacts. A college staple, it rarely had a place in the NFL until recently.

From Cam Newton to Robert Griffin III, the last two Offensive Rookie of the Year winners, to Russell Wilson to Colin Kaepernick to Ryan Tannehill and even to Andrew Luck, there are plenty of QBs who suit the scheme. Throw in Michael Vick and Jake Locker, and rookies E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith if they become starters, and there should be lots of quarterbacks reading zones this season.

2. NO HUDDLES: Hardly a new development, but certainly more widespread than ever. Where once Peyton Manning and Tom Brady were in the minority as they guided their offenses without huddling up, now nearly every team incorporates some elements of it. Most interesting will be how it works with non-star quarterbacks such as Andy Dalton, or with inconsistent ones whose decision making has been questioned -- did someone say Jay Cutler?

Or how it looks in Philadelphia, where coach Chip Kelly is bringing his go-go-go offense from Oregon, using Michael Vick to run it and LeSean McCoy as the centerpiece back.

"It's so hard for defenses to get their calls in, because we are going so fast," McCoy said. "And, we are keeping teams off-balance. When you run the ball that much, defenses don't know what's coming. Plus, we're so spread out, it can be a run play that turns into a pass."

3. DEFENSIVE SWITCHES: Rob Ryan has moved from Dallas to New Orleans, where the Saints gave up a record 7,042 yards. He brought a 3-4 alignment with him to replace the 4-3.

But in Big D, where Monte Kiffin, the master of the Tampa 2 defense, has taken over for Ryan, the 4-3 is in style.

Cleveland, under former Arizona coordinator Ray Horton, has adopted the 4-3. Quite a few teams, particularly the Patriots, Dolphins and Jaguars, will use both schemes at various times.

So how will Cowboys end DeMarcus Ware and Saints linebacker Will Smith adjust to their new roles?

"Overall, I would look at the position as just an extension from defensive end," said Smith, whose responsibilities at times now will include pass coverage. "Most of the time, I'm doing the same thing I've always done."

4. NEW COACHES: Coaching turnover is a given in any sport, and the NFL's carousel nearly spun out of control during the offseason. Buffalo, Jacksonville, Cleveland, San Diego, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Chicago and Arizona all made head coaching changes, with all but the Jaguars (Gus Bradley) selecting offense-minded replacements.

Several of the head men in new spots are proven commodities, although not necessarily in the NFL. Andy Reid, of course, went to five NFC title games and one Super Bowl with the Eagles, and he's primed to turn around a Chiefs team that has far too much talent to be a last-place team. Bruce Arians was NFL Coach of the Year in Indianapolis as an interim, then got hired in Arizona -- his first full-time head coaching gig after nearly three decades as an assistant. Marc Trestman has won championships in the CFL and brings offensive innovation to Chicago.

Getting their first cracks at being in charge are Bradley, Doug Marrone in Buffalo, Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, Rob Chudzinski in Cleveland, and Mike McCoy in San Diego.

5. REQUIRED PADS: Knee and thigh pads have become required equipment and the speed guys aren't thrilled about it.

"It's not going to stop no injuries," Titans safety Bernard Pollard said of the player safety measure. "You can put pads on all you want to. If you get hit in the knee the wrong way you're going to tear an ACL. You're going to sprain something. You're going to get a contusion."

During pregame warm-ups, league inspectors -- 32 former players -- will check for the pads, noting any violations and giving the info to a team representative so players can make adjustments. During a game, a player without proper padding must be removed until the problem is fixed.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org


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