If you long for the days of Devin Hester leaving opponents in his dust or found yourself amazed by Tarik Cohen’s ability to side-step and slip through the arms of would-be tacklers, then one of the NFL’s biggest rule changes just might be for you.
Green Bay Packers Special Teams Coordinator Ron Zook believes the league’s new kickoff rules (which we discussed here) will result in more returns. And while there is a belief that the NFL is trying to phase out the play altogether and that the return game could be negatively impacted by the recent rule change, Zook thinks the exact opposite and is intrigued about what could be coming.
“I think there’s a lot of people wondering about how it’s going to be,” Zook told Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Thankfully, we have at least what we think it’s going to be now, the rules and so fort, (so) we’re able to work on it. You’re probably going to see, in my opinion – it’s just my opinion – but more returns.”
Alignment overloads and two-man wedges have been banned under the new kickoff rules, but the elimination of the five-yard running start figures to work in the favor of the return specialists. Without the boost of a head start, more returners could be inclined to make a run for it rather than accept taking the ball at the 25-yard-line to start an offensive drive.
In trying to visualize what this could look like, it’s hard not to imagine the new kickoffs looking like punt returns. And if that’s the case, the Bears should be well-equipped to handle these changes.
Cohen finished his rookie season ranking in the top-10 in total yards and yards per return on both punts and kickoffs. Not bad for a first-year player who had never been given those responsibilities on a full-time basis before. And should the Bears choose to cut back on Cohen’s special teams contributions (in order to get him more offensive snaps), there isn’t a shortage on returning candidates.
Safety Eddie Jackson was a dynamic return man at Alabama and took some reps there in training camp last summer. Cornerbacks Bryce Callahan and Cre’von LeBlanc also saw some practice time in the return game. Rookie receiver Anthony Miller could also find himself trying his hand as a returner at some point. And there’s always Benny Cunningham, a long-time special teams ace.
Zook sees kickoffs as exciting plays and isn’t convinced the NFL is trying to give kickoffs the boot. Even though he is coaching the special teams unit of That Team in Wisconsin, I’m inclined to agree … for now. The NFL is trying to make one of the more exciting (but dangerous) plays in football a little bit safer. If the league is successful in doing that while bringing a little boost to the third phase of the game, fans (and players) will certainly embrace the change if it makes the product more entertaining.