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Thursday, March 24, 2011
Brad Smith predicts riskier kick returns


Brad Smith didn't enjoy learning that new kickoff rules were adopted this week.

But he's willing to wait before bashing the decision outright.

The NFL on Tuesday voted to move kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line. Touchbacks are expected to soar. Smith spoke to "First Take" co-host Dana Jacobson about it Thursday.

"Any time you do something and you have some success at it, you want to keep doing it," Smith said. The new rule "limits the opportunities that guys get to return a ball. It was a little disappointing, but obviously the owners, coaches see something that can be fixed as far as safety. We'll see how it works."

Smith returned two kickoffs for touchdowns last year for the New York Jets. He averaged 28.6 yards per return, most in the NFL among those with at least 22 attempts.

ESPN Stats & Information projected the continued rise in touchbacks over the past decade plus the extra 5 yards could push the touchback rate toward 50 percent. Only 8.8 percent of kickoffs went for touchbacks in 2001. Last year's figure was 16 percent.

When penalties have pushed kickoffs to the 35 because of penalties, 40 percent went for touchbacks from 2007 through 2010.

Smith asserted fewer opportunities could cause some return men to take more chances -- with a coach's blessing.

"A guy like Leon Washington, a good friend of mine, he's that type of guy who will do that," Smith said. "Special-teams coaches will be more apt to let their guys bring it out because that field-position change is huge.

"I think you'll see a lot of kickers try to bloop kick, squib kick and get guys in the corner so they won't have the opportunity to set up returns. If they try to kick it deep and happen to kick it 5 yards deep, you can have a lot of 105-yard touchdowns."