There’s been a heavy dose of criticism regarding the league’s new policy to have kickoffs start at the 35-yard line, a rule put into effect in order to decrease the chance of injuries on kickoffs.
After six of the seven kickoffs in Thursday’s preseason game against the Eagles went for touchbacks, the rule change, which in theory may have sounded like a good idea, proved to make the game duller and, frankly, a little annoying.
Fans didn’t like it. Members of the media didn’t like it. And as it turns out, even players and coaches don’t seem to care for it.
“If you look at the Ravens/Eagles game it was a yawner,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said following Sunday evening’s practice. “Every kick was a touchback and those that weren’t were because we chose not to make it one or they chose not to make it a touchback.
“In [Friday’s] game we’re going to have to punch it down there because we need to train our guys to cover kicks. We’re not going to go through the whole season kicking touchbacks. That would be foolish.”
In fact, to give players the chance to return and cover kickoffs, teams may be forced to turn to high, lofting kicks that are aimed at landing inside an opponent’s 10-yard line. And with players charging from five yards closer than before, a returner who fields the ball deep in his own territory will have even less time to react with opposing players barreling down a shorter field.
It’s a strategy Harbaugh said teams will likely resort to, as it gives special teams units a chance to lay a good hit on the returner and possibly force a turnover. Yet with a return man having less field in between himself and his opponents and even less time to react to the situation unfolding in front of him, the level of danger the league was aiming to diminish might actually go up.
“I think teams will do that because when you’re coming from the 35-yard line you’re on top of that return,” Harbaugh said. “It is scary how fast it comes on top of that, so I think teams are going to try and pop it up inside the 10 and see if they can go smash the returner inside the 15-yard line. That would definitely be a strategy.”
The new guidelines for kickoffs is certainly an issue that will be debated in the future, but for the Ravens, their future equates to the team’s first home preseason game just five days away. After falling to the Eagles on Thursday and seeing a number of miscues common among opening scrimmages, the Ravens now look forward to a matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs.
At practice Sunday, the team continued its normal slate of drills, with nothing major surfacing from the three-hour session.
Linebacker Terrell Suggs, who’s known not only for his quick feet but his sharp tongue, was particularly brash on the field, using his words to fire up the Ravens offense, while still finding the time to serenade his teammates with a few lines from R Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.”
“I love seeing it,” Harbaugh said of the trash talk. “It was positive, it was competitive and challenging one another. We’re a team but in practice we’re kind of not. We kind of get after each other a little bit and I thought that defense at times had the better of it and at times the offense had the better of it too so it was great competition.”
Players are still having some issues with penalties, evidenced by the more than a few false start errors made Sunday by players on both sides of the ball. The team’s newest weapon, however, wide receiver Lee Evans, looked solid throughout the session, running crisp routes and getting his hands on most every ball thrown his way.
With roster cuts still a few weeks away, training camp continues to be a little too crowded, with 90 guys each vying for repetitions in practice. That will all change soon, according to Harbaugh, starting with the mentality at practice following Friday night’s game against the Chiefs.
“The Westminster portion of it is up to the second preseason game, so the format changes a little bit into the third preseason game,” Harbaugh said. “It’ll still be a training camp format but it’ll be more like a game week. It’ll still be a longer practice like training camp, we always have 90 guys to get repped so it’s a longer practice but the format and style will be more like the season.”