Kick offs. They’re exciting. Not just in the game but in life in general. Last weekend was the kick off to the NFL season and look at how “rockin” that was! In soccer, they even call the start of those games kick offs, even though it could be more appropriately called a “tap off”.
As everyone by now is well WELL WELL aware, the NFL moved kick-offs up five yards. They did this because apparently 20 men running full speed at each other, while one guy swerves in between them, WHILE someone runs on to the field to grab the tee, isn’t the world’s safest play. But to some people, kick offs are sacred things. DO NOT CHANGE or you will hear wrath that is usually saved for people who want to change the rules in baseball.
We were told and warned that by moving the kick offs up 5 yards, there would be NO MORE RETURNS!! (for the record, yeah, I get it, I’m being snarky). And then something odd happened, actual real games and low and behold, we did indeed have returns. And boy did we ever!
Three players, our own rookie sensation Randall Cobb included, ran kick offs back for touchdowns. Ten players had over 90 total return yards. How boring!!!
So, how did we get here? How did we go from predicting the worse to actually decent events? Well instead of finding the guy who predicted the rapture last May (which turned out to be the day I got engaged); I decided to do a little digging based on my own assumption.
There was no off-season this year. (I know, you needed to be reminded of that, didn’t you?) So the judging of undrafted free agents, draft picks and bubble players occurred in a very condensed manner. Anyone who’s ever heard a McCarthy presser knows, the way you make the Packers (and I’m going to stretch this to make any team) is on special teams. You get your chance there. You make plays, you stand out, coaches take notice, move you more into the rotation at your position and your chances of making the team increase.
Without the off season, without OTAs and minicamps, the special teams units all preseason have mostly a mish-mash of men trying to make a team or their own highlight real. Check out who made special teams tackles or tackle assists for the Packers on special teams this preseason: Francois, D. Smith, Lee, Peprah, West, Bush, M.D. Jennings, Masthay, Ross, Gordy, Bratton, Q. Johnson, Hoese, Smithson, Crosby, Levine, Lattimore, B. Jones, Starks, Nance, J. Jones, Zombo, R. Taylor, Goode, and Saine. That list screams two things to me. 1. That’s a LOT of people and 2. Who?
I know we’re only one game into the season, but let’s look at who made special teams tackles on Thursday. 2 by D. Smith, 1 by Collins and 1 by Shields. Yeah, that sounds about right.
My theory is this: During the preseason, rarely was the same special teams coverage unit on the field for either punts or kick offs. They never had time to gel together as a unit, nor did regular special teams tacklers get extensive work on coverage. I don’t have the time nor really the interest to break down other teams’ preseason special teams tackles, but I’m guessing the same holds true for many other teams. Without the time to work together in the preseason, coverage units suffered.
Sure there are also reasons like: kicks down the center of the field are harder to defend, and my favorite, 5 yards is only 5 yards. But for now, I’m going to assume/hope/pray that the coverage units on the Packers will improve with time. And every other team, well that’s your own problem. :)