Zac Boyer will be entering his third season covering the Washington Redskins for The Free Lance-Star this fall. Make sure to follow Zac on Twitter (@ZacBoyer) for the latest updates or e-mail him with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Banks, Gano react to rule changes
NFL owners today approved a set of rule changes that will affect kickoffs. Starting next season (whenever that is), teams will kick off from the 35-yard line instead of the 30, and the coverage team will be limited to a 5-yard run-up prior to the kick.
The rules were proposed and approved with player safety as the goal. The NFL wants to limit the violent collisions that often occur on kickoffs.
Kicking off from the 35 presumably will increase the number of touchbacks and reduce returns.
“I don’t like that, man,” Redskins return specialist Brandon Banks said. “It’s gonna be tougher because there will be less opportunities to get up the field.”
Banks averaged 25.1 yards on 46 returns as a rookie last season and provided a big-play threat that the team had lacked for several years.
He averaged 27 yards per return from his Week 4 debut through Week 11. He averaged only 21.2 yards in the final five games of the season, as he battled through a lingering knee injury.
As Banks proved he could gain significant yardage on directional kickoffs by using his speed to get around the corner, teams tried to force to him to kneel on the ball in the end zone. However, he repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to run it out, and he plans to continue that approach now that he’ll likely face that scenario more often.
“I’m not afraid of that,” he said. “I’m given the green light to do it, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
On the flip side, Redskins kicker Graham Gano embraced the rule changes.
“It will be easier to hit touchbacks,” he said. “If we’re playing against, say, a Devin Hester [star Chicago Bears returner] it will be easier to just kick it out of the end zone.”
Gano’s nine touchbacks last season were 15th-most in the NFL.
Limiting the kickoff coverage unit to a 5-yard run-up, as opposed to the unlimited run-up previously allowed, presumably will slow players’ sprint down the field. However, Gano believes that won’t hinder his teammates.
“I think it will be good, too, because we’re good at hanging it up there and getting our guys down and making plays,” Gano said. “I think we’ll still be able to do that. We’ll just be putting it further down field and we’ll get a head start.”
Washington’s kickoff coverage unit ranked second in the NFL in 2010, allowing just 19.0 yards per return.
The NFL competition committee had proposed spotting touchbacks at the 25-yard line instead of the 20, but the proposal was amended to maintain the status quo. Also, return units will continue to be permitted to employ a two-man wedge.
What do you all think of the rule changes? To me they seem a bit unfortunate for the Redskins, considering they finally got an explosive return man in place.