Their concerns are understandable, of course. Returning kicks is part of how they make their living, and anyone is prone to freak out a little bit when the circumstances of their job change. Devin Hester is talking about putting up the Arena Football nets. Josh Cribbs is talking about kick returners becoming completely obsolete.
Again, I understand: It's their jobs at stake, not mine. But is it possible that we've overstated things a bit here? Are we maybe going a little too far in drawing conclusions about obsolescence?
It's not like kickoff returners will no longer have a place in the game. It's not like no one is ever going to return a kick for a touchdown again. There are still going to be games that are broken open by kick returns, and the slight increase in touchbacks that we'll see (and that's what we're talking about here, a slight increase -- Rich McKay expects we'll see 5-15 percent more touchbacks this year), could even be offset by the fact that the kick coverage team is now allowed to get less of a head-start (down from 10 yards to 5).
The average kickoff last year landed at the 6.5-yard line, so if we end up having a season, the average kickoff will still end up in play. I'm not denying that we'll see more touchbacks, of course, just pointing out that kickoff return opportunities won't be vanishing from the earth entirely.
And if you're a team that employs a weapon like Devin Hester or Josh Cribbs, and you want to get the most out of your guy, then maybe you'll have to take more risks in deciding which kicks you want to return and which ones you want to kneel on. It's another strategic decision for teams to make. If Devin Hester's on your team, maybe you give him the green light from 6 yards deep in the end zone. If Danny Amendola's your guy, maybe you ask him to pump the brakes a little.
It's March, we're in the midst of a lockout, and there's something actually football-related to talk about, so I embrace the conversation. When the season actually starts, though, around Week 8, I'll be really surprised if anyone's talking about how the game was drastically affected by this rule change.
- Devin Hester
- Josh Cribbs