Ortmayer: Rules changes will impact scoring

Join KSR's Larry Vaught in his exclusive three-part series with Kentucky special team's coach Steve Ortmayer. In today's first part, Ortmayer goes one-on-one with Vaught about the impact of the rules changes on Kentucky's return game.

Question: What will be the impact of kickoffs being at the 30-yard line instead of the 35-yard line this year?

Ortmayer: "It is definitely going to impact the game as much as the head coaches are saying. But what I think they are all concerned about is,when you have a kickoff return across the 35-yard line, which with the Wildcats you are going to see that consistently because we are going to be up to the 35, 40 and maybe sometimes the other side of the 50, your chances of scoring go way up. When you can cross the 35-yard line, the chance that you are going to put points on the board, you have about a 50 percent greater chance.

"When you stop a team at or inside the 20, which is what our goal was a year ago, the chances that a team is going to put points on the board are about one in eight. When you cross the 35, the chances you will put points on the board are about one in three. That is what head coaches are talking about — field position. They are scared to death of field position."

Question: As a special teams coach, do you emphasize more trying to stop an opponent's kickoff return or maximizing your returns?

"We are very, very happy with our return teams being what they are. We are very happy with the opportunity we feel we are going to have when the field gets stretched five yards further. We think with guys like (Keenan) Burton, Alfonso (Smith), (Tony) Dixon and Rafael (Little) on kickoff returns that we can really hurt people and our kids have bought into that as you have seen the last couple of years.

"That is going to help (offensive coordinator) Joker (Phillips). His field position is going to be dramatically improved right after another team scores than it has been in the past. We are going to put more points on the board, so consequently I have to stand there and be a kickoff guy, too. We are really working hard on that aspect of it and how we are going to get it covered and how we are going to keep the ball inside the 25."

Question: What makes Burton and Little such gifted kick returners?

Ortmayer: "The thing that makes those two guys good in their respective areas is they are fearless. Rafael is an unbelievably good punt returner. He is very, very good. I think you will see him do this for a lot of years at the next level. He is fearless. By fearless, I mean he has no trepidation catching the ball. He doesn't mind where he has to go to get it. He thinks once he gets it under his arm, he can make things happen. It is the guys who have reservations about whether the kick hangs too much or the kick is too far one way — and both Burton and Rafael have no trepidation in that area — who have problems. They are fearless when it comes to catching the ball. That gets them the big start on everything."

Join KSR and Larry Vaught tomorrow in Part II of the exclusive series with Coach Ortmayer.

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