So, we have a restrictor plate being placed on the kickoff team and, get this, a turbo being added to the return unit because Quinn and special teams coach Keith Armstrong want data, and there is almost none to be gained upon touchbacks.
Bosher has been kicking short through two preseason games, and every returner has taken off no matter what, and while this has something to do with new kickoff rules, Quinn’s methodology goes deeper than that.
New this season, eight of 11 members of the returning team must be stationed within 10-25 yards of the ball before kickoff, nobody is allowed to block anybody in the first 15 yards after the ball is kicked, and the last vestiges of wedge blocking are now prohibited.
Also, members of the kickoff team must be stationed five to each side of the kicker so a squad cannot overload a side, and coverage team members are only allowed a one-yard running start rather than five.
It’s all about player velocity reduction with the goal of making the game safer. The NFL claims reams of data suggesting that a disproportionate percentage of serious injuries have happened on kickoffs.
This is not the first attempted address. The kickoff point was moved up a few years ago from the kicking team’s 30-yard line to the 35 with the hope of creating more touchbacks, which, of course, reduce collisions.
The NFL a few years ago also changed rules so that multiple players can no longer lineup shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the returner, in a wedge. Back in the day, kicking teams typically would sent a player or two flying hell’s bells into the wedge to bust it up.
Dudes got hurt all the time.
Now, another new rule prohibits even the two players camped in the vicinity of the return man from double-team blocking a charging kick coverage man.
So Quinn and Armstrong want to see who can cover kicks, and who can return them effectively within the new rules. To date, rookies Calvin Ridley and Ito Smith, a wide receiver and a running back, and wide receiver Marvin Hall have been afforded opportunities. Ridley ripped off a 36-yarder last Friday against the Chiefs.
Quinn might wish he had more cooperation from other NFL head coaches to help him make evaluations, as he tells his kickoff returners to return everything no matter what. You know, for sake of evaluation.
“Every kickoff and kick return . . . really around the league [it’s] ‘Hey man, we’re not hitting in the end zone -- wink, wink -- we need to see some guys cover some kicks, so I think most coaches feel that way,” he said.
Well, maybe not.
For example, Carolina’s Graham Gano, who led the NFL last season with an 85.39 percent touchback rate, has eight touchbacks on 10 kickoffs so far. Atlanta is one of only two teams with zero touchbacks so far even as 332 of Bosher’s 609 regular-season kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.
There has been talk about possible elimination of the kickoff in the NFL.
It might seem that an easy way to save the kickoff -- an epic, if somewhat infrequent factor of the game -- would be to mollify the violence of collisions on NFL kickoffs by having kickers boot the ball from the 20 with coverage team lining up at the 40 in front of them without coverage men being allowed to launch until the ball is booted.
There, you reward the leg strength of the kicker, and/or his ability to send a ball high into the air, and the ability of the coverage team to do their job.
But things do not work simply in the NFL, which seems to be seeking to eliminate big hits within a game that has staked ground on big hits and long plays.
Quinn’s not worried about dogma. He just wants more real-time data on his guys. As he said, “I think with this new rule with how things are played, we’re anxious to see some more.”