With the kickoff to the 2011 NFL regular season right around the corner, there is a buzz around Detroit Lions football.
The excitement is partially due to the team's competitive build and partially due to the weapons on offense and defense that will be sure to contribute to the highlight reels.
And if I told you that the Lions also had a potential weapon on special teams, you'd nod your head and guess Stefan Logan, right?
Well, sure. Logan is a threat to pick up yards every time he touches the ball, but this year there will be more damage control. Rule changes have moved the ball up five yards, to the 35-yard line, enabling teams to kick deep in -– or through –- the end zone on kickoffs in order to avoid a return.
Logan's loss, however, might be Jason Hanson's gain.
Hanson has been a successful kicker for two decades in the NFL -- a testament to his accuracy as longevity in the kicking game is sustained through precision not power.
Although Hanson does have a powerful leg, his accuracy is going to cause problems for opposing return teams.
During the preseason, most teams have booted the ball out of the end zone, forcing the opposing team to start at the 20-yard line. The Lions have followed suit most of the way but employed a different strategy on a few kicks.
The Lions leveraged the shorter field to send the ball in the air with increased hang time and have Hanson drop it as close to the goal line (but not in the end zone) as possible. This forces the returner to attempt to move the ball with less space and time (due to the increased hang time).
"With the ball moved up five yards, with significant hang, there are times where you can (decide whether or not to) stick them at the 20 with a good kick or stick them inside the 15," said Hanson. "Especially once you get that 10-yard line, that really changes it for their offense. It could be a weapon."
The Lions did it twice in the third exhibition contest against the Patriots, each time forcing Tom Brady and company to start the drive behind the 15-yard line.
And potentially pinning an opposing offense inside the 10-yard line is an exciting prospect usually reserved for the punting game. However, if the Lions can effectively incorporate this strategy, opposing offenses might be faced with a disadvantage. This could help the Lions gain an edge in the always important field-position battle.
A long field for an offense doesn't only hinder their chance of scoring, it also results in the likelihood of the opposing offense starting in a better position on their drive.
A better starting position for the Lions increases the probability of a score.
The beauty of it? If Detroit's offense scores as often as many anticipate they will, they will employ the same tactic on the ensuing kickoff, putting their opponent at a near-cyclical disadvantage.
Although, where there is potential reward there is usually risk.
"At the same time, when you put the ball in someone's hand there's always the small chance they could burn you," warned Hanson.
That is also the same reason as to why teams may be weary to incorporate this strategy when facing the Lions. Would you rather give the 20-yard line or put the ball in Logan's hands?
The Lions are likely to look at this on a week-to-week basis, depending on their matchup. It's something that may become a staple in the kicking game or a strategy used only to exploit teams with a weak return game.
Nevertheless, the Lions may have a potential weapon in their arsenal. How often they use it remains to be seen.