SEC coaches’ strategy dealing with new kickoff rules in 2012

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As you’re probably already aware, and as we’ve previously discussed here at SDS, we have new college football kickoff rules this season.

However, here’s a quick summary:

  • Kickoffs will be moved to 35-yard line instead of the 30-yard line
  • Touchbacks will be brought out to the 25-yard line instead of the 20
  • Kickoff teams cannot line up behind the 30 to get a ‘running head start’
  • For onside kicks, the return team can fair catch a one-bounce, high-hopper
  • Punt returners will be protected by a modified 18-inch area in front and side of the returner, as previously, defenders could run right past the returner without touching him

For kickoffs, the goal is to reduce injuries to both teams, because kickoffs usually yield the most injuries of any formations in football. And NFL data has proven this to be the case for head injuries.

Coaches are going to have to make up their minds as to how they are going to approach these rules, and we’re all interested to see how their in-game decision-making evolves throughout each game and the season.

The logical thing for coaches would be to try and pin their opponents inside the 10- or 15-yard line with higher ‘squib’ kicks to allow better kickoff coverage. But with that comes more opportunities for poorer kicks, unless teams have a kicker who can pin it inside the 15-yard line every time.

Here is what some SEC coaches are saying about the new kickoff rules:

Alabama
Nick Saban is taking a wait-and-see approach:

Until you live it, you don’t know how it’s going to affect the game. Saban doesn’t think it will change how Alabama handles things philosophically.

“We still have to work on it because the one he doesn’t kick, you better be ready.”

Arkansas
John L. Smith, formally Arkansas’ special teams coach, and his kicker Zach Hocker are making no secrets about how they approach the new rules.

“We both feel if it is beneficial if I keep getting touchbacks, even if the ball comes out to the 25,” Hocker said. “If I’m chipping the ball and dropping it inside the 5, there is more room for me to mess up and more chance for the return team to do something.”

Auburn
Special teams coordinator Jay Boulware says the new rules encourage teams to keep the ball in play, and he thinks there will be even more injuries because of it.

“The intent was to encourage people to down the ball when it’s in the end zone, but what about when it’s not in the end zone?” Boulware said. “I don’t have the opportunity (to hold a team to the 20) on a touchback anymore, but I do if I tell my kicker to kick in the field of play. I don’t know what every other team is going to do, but I believe this is going to increase the chance of player injury. Because it encourages you to put the ball in play.”

Florida
Will Muschamp has a strong kicker in Caleb Sturgis, but since the ball comes to the 25-yard line, he’ll introduce some ‘sky-kick’ situations for his kicker.

“We have a guy that can kick it out of the end zone, but you’re going to get the ball at the 25 yard line now,” Muschamp said. “We have talked about some sky kick situations as far as trying to pin them down. We do run well. That’s why we’re good on special teams. We talked about trying directional kick the ball with height and see if we can’t pin them back in even further.”

Muschamp also laughed back in late spring at the notion that there will be less injuries.

“The take-offs don’t matter. I mean, the rules committee… (shaking his head)”
“The collisions happen 40 yards down the field, so if you take off from 5 yards or 10, it does not even matter. Do I make sense? I mean, come on.”

Georgia
Mark Richt will allow his kickers the freedom to kick the ball deep anytime they want.

“I don’t think it’s an advantage for the other teams or a disadvantage to us if our kickers can knock it out of the end zone,” Richt said. “I’m all for them knocking it out of the end zone. There will be days when it’s windy, and sometimes it’s going to be at your back and sometimes it’s going to be in your face. When it’s in your face, you probably won’t be able to knock it out of the end zone, so you better have a plan to place the ball where it needs to be placed and allow your cover team to get there.
“Personally, if I knew we could knock it out of the end zone on any given attempt, that’s what I would love to see happen. We are going to allow them to have that freedom.”

Kentucky
Special teams coach Greg Nord has spent much time this off-season discussing new kickoff rules with NFL coaches. He’s still not sure if they are going to impact the game as much as everyone thinks.

“I don’t know that it’s going to impact the game as much as some people have made out,” he said. “Maybe you’re not going to have as many returns, as college kickers get stronger and more capable of kicking it deep. Twenty-five (yard line) is a difference, but is it worth kicking it to some of the returners in our league or going on and give them five yards? We’re going to kick it deep if we can.

“There may be some attempts at some squib kicks and onsides and surprises and those types of different kicks,” he added. “I’ll be shocked if it plays out as a big difference this year in college football overall. There may be one or two teams where there’s a big difference you may see, but I don’t anticipate a big difference.”

LSU
Les Miles is not tipping his hat on how he will approach the new rules, but he does allow that it will not be that different. He’s trying to figure out what the difference of five yards really means.

“We’re not really ready to reveal a strategy change, but we’re not really ready to say it’s going to be much different, either,” Tigers coach Les Miles said cryptically. “We’re just trying to figure out what difference does five yards really mean.

“You’ll find that there are similarities to the way the game is going to be played,” Miles said. “I think it will give way to some different strategy, but I don’t necessarily want to talk about that.”

Mississippi State
Dan Mullen still isn’t sure how the new rules will affect his game plan. Mullen, much like Urban Meyer, coaches the special teams directly.

“It’s a huge deal and shoot, we finally get a guy (like) Devon Bell that can kick it out of the end zone so now he should be able to kick into the stands,” Mullen said jokingly when talking to reporters Monday morning. “I think a lot of decisions will have to be made like do you want to kick it out the end zone and give it to them at the 25 or do you want to try, with less field to cover, to pin the opponent inside the 20. I don’t know if anybody will have the decisions on that until the season gets going.”

Vanderbilt
James Franklin thinks coaches are going to try and pin teams in the field of play.

“I do think the squib kicks, things like that, are going to keep the ball on the field of play,” Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. “Coaches know how valuable every inch is, how valuable that real estate is. If you can pin them inside the 10 or 15 with some kind of kick or coverage, you want to do that, no doubt about it.”

My main takeaways from the kickoff rules:

1. I’m all about keeping players safe, but it will be a less exciting game. Historically, the most exciting play in a football game is when the kick returner houses one from 90-plus yards out. It just is. Now, there will be less overall exciting plays in the football game. But if it reduces injuries, I have to be ok with it. Let’s wait and see.

2. More touchbacks will be less momentum for the receiving team. College football is all about ‘Big Mo’, and if the kickers are putting the ball in the end zone most of the time, Mo will not be around in that facet of the game.

3. If teams are spending more time on kickoff strategy at practice, they are spending less time on other facets of the game. Teams only have a limited amount of practice time.

What are your takeaways from the new kickoff rules?

REFERENCES

COMMENTS

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  • I agree w muschamp, the auburn coach and franklin….Think this is the dumbest “safety” concept yet. It may have an impact this year as it did in the nfl…but the aggressive coaches will fine tune their kickoffs to squeeze every inch out of it. And yes it takes excitement out of the game: Richt will kick it through the end zone every time and Goooooooo Dawgs Sic em! Woof woof will be reduced to a murmur at Sanford Stadium.

  • The offensive excitement of the Kickoff will now simply become a defensive strategy. Aggressive coaches will not gamble on a potential return versus giving up the 5 yards.The potential for gains versus loss is simply not there. Why risk a return simply to gain 5 yards in the field of play. The wind factor will play a more important role in strategy for each half of a game.Some kicker will perfect the ability of placing the kickoff at the 5 yard line and force returns but most teams will simply kick away and give up the ball at the 25 yard line. Neither team will use the Kickoff as an offensive strategy unless the kicker forces them to.If special teams trend to sky kicks and hang time to force returns then the injury theory goes out the window. Windy days would seem to increase the risk of injury. So much for diminishing the game of football in the interest of a misguided concept. The touch back should still come out to the 20. This would eliminate the strategy for sky kicks.So that is some twisted logic to consider.

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