Friday, April 1, 2011
Speed Dial: Impact of new kickoff rules
We're overdue for another installment of "Speed Dial," where I ring up three folks from my cell phone's contact list to get their takes on a particular subject.
Today's question for three notable special-teamers: What are your thoughts on the NFL's decision to move kickoffs up to the 35-yard line and limit the running head start of coverage players to 5 yards behind the ball?
Steve Tasker, seven-time Pro Bowler for the Buffalo Bills:
"The Oakland Raiders might not have to cover a kick all year because Sebastian Janikowski can put the ball out of the end zone. With the extra 5 yards, he'll be able to do it through December and January. It gives the coaching staff a chance to not keep any special-teams players. They can put their offensive linemen on kickoff coverage for conditioning drills. They're not even going to hit anybody.
"For each team, it comes down to the guy who can put his foot on the ball as to how much change there will be. It used to be if you could keep the return guy inside the 25, it was a good cover. Now, it's going to be inside the 20.
"After this modification, if it continues to be a problem with guys getting blown up on kick covers, it may go the way of the jump ball in basketball. Maybe you score and the other team just gets the ball on the 20 with no kick. Maybe you have a kickoff to open the game and then the second half. They may move away from that special team all together.
"It would be a break from tradition, but the league never has been averse from doing that anyway. The rules aren't sacred. The fan interest is. If the fans don't want to see it, they'll take it out."
Jim "Crash" Jensen, former Miami Dolphins do-it-all contributor:
"It's definitely going to make kickoffs safer, and that's the whole idea of it. A lot of the injuries happen on the return. I thought they should have put the touchback to the 25-yard line, though [as in the original proposal], to keep the return a part of the game. It's not going to be as exciting for the fans, but the game will be a little safer.
"I don't have a problem with the safety of the players. I'm starting to feel it myself, you know? I'm in a lot of pain. If you play in the NFL for 12 years, you're going to feel it.
"It's a totally different game, the one that I played compared to the one today. There are a lot more rule changes. They eliminated the wedge [of more than two players]. You can't cut the wedge. But to say [today's players] are softer? I don't think so. It's still the gridiron."
Jay Feely, Arizona Cardinals kicker
"I've spoken to some return guys like Leon Washington and LaRod Stephens-Howling and, obviously, our opinions are very different when it comes to whether we're pleased. The older kickers are very happy. One of the impacts will be it will almost de-emphasize the kickoff role because it'll be easier to get touchbacks, easier to get balls into the end zone. It won't create as much separation between somebody who has a great leg and somebody who doesn't.
"I don't think you'll see nearly as much directional kicking anymore. Coaches will allow you to just kick away. I'm going to try to convince my coach -- whenever we get back to playing -- to allow me to do that. The distance between kicking outside the numbers and trying to get it into the corner compared to a straight line down the middle of the field is close to 5 yards farther. If you're kicking straight down the middle and not changing your steps or worrying about being accurate, you can swing away. Because you're 5 yards further up, you'll see more coaches kicking away, and I think that change in scheme could double the number of touchbacks.
"The 5-yard limit rule [for the coverage team] could make it tougher for onside recoveries. They're not going to get to the ball as quickly, and you tried to time that up so they had as much speed to cover those 10 yards as quickly as possible."