It’s understandable that special teams coach Danny Smith would have some strong feelings on the new kickoff rules. On the one hand, his teams have always excelled at kickoff coverage — something that’s going to change dramatically when the spot of the kick moves to the 35 yard line. The other side of the equation is no good for Smith either: he’s finally got a potentially gamebreaking return man in Brandon Banks, and suddenly the league has moved to reduce the chances of a gamebreaking return.
Smith recently sat down with Larry Michael on Redskins Nation, and took the opportunity to explain exactly how the changes would affect the Redskins special teams units — and if you’ve ever heard Danny Smith talk, you know it wasn’t boring. (If you’re in the DMV, you can catch a second part of the interview on today’s show at 5:30 and 11:30.)
“It’s gonna have quite an impact, I think,” Smith tells Michael. “Just to give you-without boring you with a lot of facts and figures-17 percent of kickoffs were touchbacks last year. 39 percent of kickoffs touched the endzone last year, so they’re decision-making ones – do I bring ’em out, do I not bring ’em out.
“Now if you move it up five [yards], those numbers are obviously gonna increase. So there’s gonna be some kickers that just kick it out of the endzone and you’re not going to get an opportunity to return. And there’s others that you don’t mind kicking to. Everybody in this league is a quality returner, obviously, or they don’t make it to this level. But some are better than others. So there’s some strategy involved in this decision, as well, for special teams coaches, in my mind, of who you wanna kick to and who you don’t. Or do you have a guy that can knock it out of the endzone, or knock it 7, 8, 10 yards deep?”
Which all makes a lot of sense, but is also pretty general. So how will it affect it the Redskins in particular?“We have good players here and our coverage units have always been good,” Smith says, “and they’ll continue to be good. What it does for us, is we’re not satisfied with the ball at the 20 yard-line – that’s where they’re gonna bring the touchback back to, the 20 yard-line, which will remain the same – you know, we like the tackles inside the 20. We were second in the league this year in tackles inside the 20, and Lorenzo Alexander did a great job, some of the best hits in the league this year occurred by him inside the 20. We happened to finish second in the league this year in that category, so we want to continue that and we’re not gonna be satisfied with the ball at the 20.
“Y’know, you have a strategy, you make a decision, do you get more height on the ball? If you can, do you knock the ball out of the endzone against a great returner, and don’t give ’em a chance, and be satisfied at the 20? You may want to do that with a Devin Hester-type. He doesn’t need to show me anything, the guy is outstanding — obviously, we were punting away from him last year. He doesn’t need to show me anything, he’s convinced me of the quality of player he is. There’s gonna be a lot of changes, I think, in strategy and movement of the ball.”
Smith says that he’s confident that kicker Graham Gano can put the ball in the end zone from the 35, but that’s no guarantee of touchbacks. “That’s a decision that the return team has to make,” Smith says. “Again, I think those are gonna be tougher decisions for the return man.”
Ultimately, Smith does think the change will lead to fewer returns. But there’s another unintended consequence that’s nagging at the coach: how the kickoff team can line up.
“There may be more offsides on these kickoffs now,” Smith says. “You’re only allowed to line up five yards back from the ball. The kicker can line up as deep as he needs to, to make his approach. But instead of guys lining up 10 yards, 11 yards, 9 yards, you have to line up inside of 5 yards. So our crew will be at the 30 yard-line, so you don’t get as much of a running start. I don’t really know what that’s gonna help, but that is the rule.”
Check out the second part of Larry Michael’s interview with Smith tonight on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet.
Tags: brandon banks, Danny Smith, larry michael, Lorenzo Alexander, Redskins Nation, rule changes, special teams
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