One exciting aspect to kicking change?

Heath Farwell has been a special-teams leader for the Vikings for years and he thinks there could be a byproduct of the changes to kickoffs, and it doesn't have anything to do with touchbacks.

Heath Farwell had an assessment ready within hours of the NFL's new kickoff rules being passed on Tuesday.

Most of the changes won't have a dramatic impact on the game, the Vikings' special-teams captain figures, but he did have one intriguing observation: Special-teams coordinators around the league might consider more onside kicks.

On Tuesday, the NFL voted to move the starting point for kickoffs up five yards, from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line, which is expected to increase the number of touchbacks from 16 percent to closer to a much as 30 percent, according to NFL competition committee chairman Rich McKay. But Farwell believes that extra five yards could tempt coaches to call for more onside kicks because failed attempts would still likely require an additional first down by the opposing team before it would be in field goal range.

"A lot of teams, I think, feel that surprise onsides, it's a big risk because you're giving the ball up at the 40-yard line or whatever it might be. Now you have the extra five yards, maybe it's a little more intriguing," Farwell said.

"If you're going off that (onside) kick and you don't get it, you're giving the ball almost in field goal range. That extra five yards, they might need one more first down out of it. We'll have to see how that goes, but that's my guess is that you might have a couple more teams thinking about that."

The five-yard change was made with player safety in mind, as the NFL found a higher percentage of injuries happen on kickoff returns. But the change will also increase the number of touchbacks, thereby decreasing the number of kick returns. The move passed by a 26-6 vote.

While it follows that the ball being kicked deeper into the end zone more often would create more touchbacks, Farwell also believes that returner men won't be as likely to bring the ball out even if they are only a yard deep into the end zone when fielding a kickoff. The reason? Defenders will be on top of them more quickly since they have five fewer yards to run in covering the kick.

"It used to be the returners were coached up that if your feet were on the letters (in the end zone), you stay in. Well, now it's going to be if you're in the end zone, I bet they're going to tell you to stay," Farwell said. "Where if you were a yard deep you bring it out because they're running 70 yards. They're running all the way down the field. … As a return team, you're going to have to get back and get set quick because they're going to be on you. I think that's going to change a little bit.

A proposal to have touchbacks brought out to the 25-yard line (instead of the 20) didn't pass.

"The concern was that you would motivate people to hang the ball and try to trap it inside the 25, which people are probably a little more risk-adverse as opposed to try to trap inside of the 20," McKay said. "So that was their concern. I still believe that the idea of hanging the ball is a little harder to do today than they may remember because of the one-inch tee, but our kickers are pretty good. So it was a valid point and it was one that we felt like we needed to consider and so that's the way that proposal got written."

The league also considered elimination the two-man wedge blocks on kickoff returns, but decided to continue allowing those. Two years ago, the NFL eliminated wedges of more than two players on returns, and Farwell said keeping two-man wedges will prompt longer kickoff returns.

"I think if you had single-man blocks all the way across the line, you wouldn't have very many returns. It wouldn't be very exciting for fans," Farwell said. "You would take the whole special teams aspect – it's kind of developed where special teams, there are such good returners, it's made special teams more exciting. I think more fans pay attention to special teams more than ever in the last couple years because you never know when it's a game changer, when a kickoff returner or a punt returner (scores) because there is more stuff happening like that."

Farwell estimated the change to kicking off at the 35-yard line will only eliminate one or two returns per game.

Last year, while Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell made 17 of 18 field goal attempts, he had only three of his 65 kickoffs – 4.6 percent – go for touchbacks. The league average was 16 percent.

NOTES

  • The league did pass what McKay termed a "modernization" of instant replay that will have all scoring plays automatically reviewed by the booth, taking it out of the coaches' hands, and allow for scoring plays to be reviewed regardless if a team has any challenges left of not. Also, a third challenge would be awarded to coaches who were correct in their first two challenges in a game.

  • Farwell didn't think a change to have all members of a kicking team be within five years of the kickoff spot would have much of an effect on coverage teams.

  • The NFL also made it a requirement that all games be played on a field that is some shade of green to eliminate potentially radical requests by advertisers.


    Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



  • Viking Update Top Stories

    \r\n\r\n","mobileBody":"Heath Farwell had an assessment ready within hours of the NFL's new kickoff rules being passed on Tuesday. Most of the changes won't have a dramatic impact on the game, the Vikings' special-teams captain figures, but he did have one intriguing observation: Special-teams coordinators around the league might consider more onside kicks. On Tuesday, the NFL voted to move the starting point for kickoffs up five yards, from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line, which is expected to increase the number of touchbacks from 16 percent to closer to a much as 30 percent, according to NFL competition committee chairman Rich McKay. But Farwell believes that extra five yards could tempt coaches to call for more onside kicks because failed attempts would still likely require an additional first down by the opposing team before it would be in field goal range. \"A lot of teams, I think, feel that surprise onsides, it's a big risk because you're giving the ball up at the 40-yard line or whatever it might be. Now you have the extra five yards, maybe it's a little more intriguing,\" Farwell said. \"If you're going off that (onside) kick and you don't get it, you're giving the ball almost in field goal range. That extra five yards, they might need one more first down out of it. We'll have to see how that goes, but that's my guess is that you might have a couple more teams thinking about that.\" The five-yard change was made with player safety in mind, as the NFL found a higher percentage of injuries happen on kickoff returns. But the change will also increase the number of touchbacks, thereby decreasing the number of kick returns. The move passed by a 26-6 vote. While it follows that the ball being kicked deeper into the end zone more often would create more touchbacks, Farwell also believes that returner men won't be as likely to bring the ball out even if they are only a yard deep into the end zone when fielding a kickoff. The reason? Defenders will be on top of them more quickly since they have five fewer yards to run in covering the kick. \"It used to be the returners were coached up that if your feet were on the letters (in the end zone), you stay in. Well, now it's going to be if you're in the end zone, I bet they're going to tell you to stay,\" Farwell said. \"Where if you were a yard deep you bring it out because they're running 70 yards. They're running all the way down the field. … As a return team, you're going to have to get back and get set quick because they're going to be on you. I think that's going to change a little bit. A proposal to have touchbacks brought out to the 25-yard line (instead of the 20) didn't pass. \"The concern was that you would motivate people to hang the ball and try to trap it inside the 25, which people are probably a little more risk-adverse as opposed to try to trap inside of the 20,\" McKay said. \"So that was their concern. I still believe that the idea of hanging the ball is a little harder to do today than they may remember because of the one-inch tee, but our kickers are pretty good. So it was a valid point and it was one that we felt like we needed to consider and so that's the way that proposal got written.\" The league also considered elimination the two-man wedge blocks on kickoff returns, but decided to continue allowing those. Two years ago, the NFL eliminated wedges of more than two players on returns, and Farwell said keeping two-man wedges will prompt longer kickoff returns. \"I think if you had single-man blocks all the way across the line, you wouldn't have very many returns. It wouldn't be very exciting for fans,\" Farwell said. \"You would take the whole special teams aspect – it's kind of developed where special teams, there are such good returners, it's made special teams more exciting. I think more fans pay attention to special teams more than ever in the last couple years because you never know when it's a game changer, when a kickoff returner or a punt returner (scores) because there is more stuff happening like that.\" Farwell estimated the change to kicking off at the 35-yard line will only eliminate one or two returns per game. Last year, while Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell made 17 of 18 field goal attempts, he had only three of his 65 kickoffs – 4.6 percent – go for touchbacks. The league average was 16 percent.
  • The league did pass what McKay termed a \"modernization\" of instant replay that will have all scoring plays automatically reviewed by the booth, taking it out of the coaches' hands, and allow for scoring plays to be reviewed regardless if a team has any challenges left of not. Also, a third challenge would be awarded to coaches who were correct in their first two challenges in a game.
  • Farwell didn't think a change to have all members of a kicking team be within five years of the kickoff spot would have much of an effect on coverage teams.
  • The NFL also made it a requirement that all games be played on a field that is some shade of green to eliminate potentially radical requests by advertisers.
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