AFC East: Sebastian Janikowski
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."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
If they hold onto their allocated first-round pick, what type of player can the New York Jets expect with the No. 17 selection?
I figured we might learn something by reviewing the level of talent each AFC East team's first-round draft slot has yielded over the past decade.
No. 17 has produced a mixed bag of standouts, reliable starters, journeymen and disappointments. Top guard Steve Hutchinson is the best of the lot, while receiver Bryant Johnson and defensive end Jarvis Moss have been the biggest mistakes.
- 1999 Damien Woody, C, Patriots: Two-time Super Bowl champion and one-time Pro Bowler has played center, guard and tackle.
- 2000 Sebastian Janikowski, K, Raiders: Productive, but isn't among the league's elite kickers.
- 2001 Steve Hutchinson, G, Seahawks: Six-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro now stars for the Vikings.
- 2002 Phillip Buchanon, CB, Raiders: Recently signed with the Lions, his fourth team in a decent -- but unspectacular -- career.
- 2003 Bryant Johnson, WR, Cardinals: Never has caught 50 passes or gained 750 yards.
- 2004 D.J. Williams, LB, Broncos: Has been a solid starter since his rookie season.
- 2005 David Pollack, LB, Bengals: Started five games as a rookie before a spinal injury early in 2006 forced him into retirement.
- 2006 Chad Greenway, LB, Vikings: A preseason knee injury wiped out his rookie campaign, but he has started 31 of the past 32 games, recording 5.5 sacks last year.
- 2007 Jarvis Moss, DE, Broncos: The Broncos traded up to get him, but he has started one game in two seasons.
- 2008 Gosder Cherilus, T, Lions: Started 13 games at right tackle as a rookie.
The decision here comes down to loyalty and what you've done for me lately.
No, this isn't really a kicker debate. This is a scenario in which you need to weigh sentiment against production.
By all indications, Jets kicker Mike Nugent should be back on the field by now. The 47th overall selection in the 2005 draft injured his right thigh in the season opener and hasn't played since.
Jets head coach Eric Mangini has made Nugent a game-time decision the past two weeks. Mangini on Wednesday said Nugent is "practicing as well. ... He's been kicking for a few weeks now." Nugent's still counting against the 53-man roster.
Jay Feely, meanwhile, has proved himself a valuable teammate on a first-place club. The street free agent has been the Jets' kicker for 10 games, endearing himself with critical field goals.
Feely calmly made a 34-yard kick to beat the New England Patriots in sudden death two weeks ago. He made a 52-yard field goal with three seconds left in regulation time to force overtime in Week 7 against the Oakland Raiders.
He tied a club record with a 55-yard kick in the Week 10 blowout of the St. Louis Rams.
He's fourth in the NFL in points per game with a 9.1 average. He has made 20 of his 24 attempts (83.3 percent). Not a bad turnaround for a guy the Miami Dolphins cut in training camp and the Kansas City Chiefs let go after a strange one-day kicking contest among three hopefuls.
The Jets, however, might not find it so easy to send Nugent to the curb.
On the day the Jets signed Feely, Mangini said Feely would be the kicker only until "Mike gets back."
That was team loyalty talking then. Nugent was entering his fourth season as the Jets' kicker. They used a second-round pick to draft him out of Ohio State in 2005. He was the highest-drafted kicker since Sebastian Janikowski in 2000 and the second-highest since John Lee in 1986.
Nugent scored 110 points last year for a team that went 4-12. His 29 field goals were tied for fifth in the NFL.
But if Nugent was healthy enough to be a game-time decision on Nov. 13, then one must wonder if Mangini has changed his mind.