The NFL owners decided this week to move the ball on kickoffs up five yards to the 35, making touchbacks more likely than years past. The idea is to prevent injuries that happen during the high impact collisions on kickoffs. Kansas City Chiefs head coach Todd Haley told Josh Looney that he thinks the change could deliver some surprises.
“If you’re a team that’s kicking a bunch of touchbacks, you’re not getting a lot of practice at covering and tackling. All of a sudden, when the wind is blowing, it’s sloppy or a guy misses the kick, you get one run back for a touchdown on you. Who knows?”
“I believe that getting less practice at covering the kicks is a true factor. The only real looks you get on that play are live looks in a game and if guys are relaxing, thinking that it’s a touchback or that a guy is going to keep it in (the end zone), all of a sudden he brings it out…I’ll be interested to see if there is an effect there.”
A great point from Haley and there are a few others in the article if you click over to the official site. Teams do all kinds of special teams practicing during the week, but as Haley point out, the only time they get that game speed is — you guessed it — in the games. That could end up working out for guys like Devin Hester and Josh Cribbs who already give finely tuned coverage units fits.
Another angle that is mentioned and needs to be watched is how often teams use the high “mortar” kicks to try and drop the ball inside the 10 yard line. If those types of kicks increase, it’s not out of the question that the amount of violent hits on returns would also go up and neutralize the reason for the rule change.
Haley, a gambling man himself, thinks onside kicks will be used much more frequently. While it’s true he might decide to use them even more, I don’t see five yards all of a sudden giving most coaches guts enough to roll the dice. When you come out on the wrong side of that low percentage play, the field position you are giving up is just too crippling.