He is the Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback most often seen scrambling around on grainy NFL films of the late 1960s. So when Fran Tarkenton refers to the league's fleet-footed quarterback trend as a "seismic shift," it holds some weight.

Others aren't so sure. Though he was impressed by Colin Kaepernick's 181 yards rushing against the Green Bay Packers last week, NFL Network analyst Heath Evans sees it as more fluke or fad than the future.

"In three or four years it's going to be gone," the former Seattle Seahawks fullbacks said on the air. "Disciplined defenses will knock it out."

The truth probably lies somewhere in between. But Kaepernick's explosion and the increase in designed rushing plays from a new breed of quarterback -- Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III -- has NFL coaches looking closely at the college game and more willing to put their most important player at risk.

Coach Chip Kelly, whose quarterbacks ran for huge yardage at the University of Oregon in a zone option scheme, was hired Wednesday to coach the Philadelphia Eagles. Some speculate the use of the option by Kaepernick and Wilson in the playoffs may have persuaded Kelly to make the jump.

Chris Ault, the recently retired head coach at Nevada and the man who trained Kaepernick in the pistol offense, was delighted to see his former pupil becoming a star on a national stage with some of the same plays he ran in college.

"The read plays that the 49ers ran, that's what (Nevada) ran and what they still run," Ault said.

While Kaepernick has sparked the conversation, Newton got the ball rolling in 2011. The No. 1 overall pick that year has amassed 1,447 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns in two seasons.

The land rush continued in 2012 with Washington's Griffin III (815 yards), Wilson (489 yards) and Kaepernick (415 yards in seven starts).

"Teams are embracing the running quarterback like never before, and we finally have a supply of talented, athletic players rising up to meet that demand," Tarkenton wrote for the Pioneer Press in Minnesota.

All are adept at breaking free on scrambles like Tarkenton or former 49ers quarterback Steve Young. The difference is that Carolina, Washington, Seattle and San Francisco have installed college-style option plays -- the quarterback can either keep the ball or pitch to a running back -- that are designed runs.

Ault, 66, has become a guru for modern option football, playing host to coaches from high school and college, as well as CFL and NFL teams who want to borrow from his scheme.

"What the pistol is bringing to the table is there's something else out there," Ault said. "The difference is that now we have running quarterbacks that can also throw. It used to be if you could run, you didn't throw very well."

One fan is 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who was curious about Ault's offense while he worked under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford.

What struck Roman, who studied the offense while Kaepernick was the Nevada quarterback, was having the running back behind the quarterback, as opposed to the offset back that Kelly used at Oregon.

"I loved the downhill element of it and the neutrality of it, the back in the home position," Roman said. "I loved a couple different things about the concept, and I thought it was a great idea."

The ability to be an NFL caliber passer is what separates Kaepernick and Co. from Tim Tebow, whose passing skills are suspect.

Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie is sizing up that issue after what he called an "encouraging" running/passing regular-season finale from backup quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

"You've got to make the short-, medium- and long-range throws to be effective," McKenzie said. "Otherwise, they can play eight or nine in the box and just haul off and come and get you if you can't complete passes."

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose mobility is used mostly on scrambles, said football is "cyclical" and that option football may be a non-passing fancy.

"Things have come back around that were being used 20, 30 years ago," Rodgers told ESPN 540 radio. "Some of the pistol, read option stuff will eventually pass ... now it might not be for 10 more years."

ESPN and NFL Network analyst Matt Millen is intrigued by option football and said "we're all newbies at this stuff," but he hearkened back to something former teammate Jim Plunkett told him when they were with the Raiders.

"He said, 'There are a lot of young running quarterbacks, but there aren't a lot of old ones,' " Millen said.

Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick, who rushed for 1,039 yards in 2006 for the Atlanta Falcons and is one of the fastest men to play the position, has played a 16-game season only once in a 10-year NFL career because of injuries.

Ault maintains the worst hits he's seen a quarterback take have been as unprotected pocket passers and that they can be schooled to get out of bounds or slide on running plays.

Griffin left the Redskins' playoff game against the Seahawks with an existing knee injury that buckled on a poor snap and underwent ACL surgery. The original injury came not on an option run, but a scramble Dec. 9 to elude the Baltimore Ravens pass rush.

Even Ault concedes it's unrealistic to expect an NFL quarterback to regularly carry the ball a dozen or more times a game but believes designed running plays set up potential big gains on play-action passes.

Former 49ers quarterback Trent Dilfer, an ESPN analyst, doesn't think coaches will be able to help themselves.

"There is always going to be a situation in the game where it's an advantage to run it," Dilfer said. "The pressure is on the play-caller not to go to the well too many times."

Former Eagles and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Randall Cunningham rushed for 942 yards with the Philadelphia in 1990 and had 4,298 yards rushing in an 11-year NFL career. He was amused to discover his son, Randall Jr., a 6-foot-5 quarterback and track athlete, was studying Kaepernick.

Especially when Randall Sr. heard Kaepenick was studying him.

Dilfer, a coach at youth camps for aspiring high school and college quarterbacks, believes more Kaepernicks are on the way.

"I've seen this coming -- they take the biggest, baddest dude on the block and make him a quarterback, and that wasn't the case for a long time," Dilfer said. "They're bigger, they're faster, they're stronger, they have passing skills, they're going to be more durable.

"It's a natural progression that the quarterback run-driven game is going to the NFL."