Recently, Thomas Bassinger wrote a column about how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – as well as the other NFL teams – might be impacted by the new kickoff rules. He speculated about how the league has found a way to sell player safety and likely increase scoring with these rules.
He’s correct, but something else these rule changes do is make the third phase of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ attack strategy much more important.
For those who are unaware of the new rules, let’s break them down. Bassinger did so as well in his column.
The changes to the NFL kickoff are as follows:
Some things which Bassinger also points out are evident right away. These rule changes will limit high speed collisions by restricting when blockers can engage and by disallowing the running start we’re so used to seeing.
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Without the running start, return men are going to get more room to get going before they meet opposition. Obviously this means the returns are going to get longer. Man, what Devin Hester would do with these rules, amirite?
However, another thing this does is take away the counter-action most NFL teams employed when the 25-yard touchback rule was enacted.
Now, if you kick the ball short, you’re just asking to get gashed in the return game. So, we should see a switch back to stronger legs which will aim to put the ball out of the endzone.
However, something we could also see is an increase in deep endzone returns. Think about this. If you’re an aggressive return man who doesn’t get many offensive touches and you know the coverage team is behind the mark they would usually be…well, maybe you return that kick from five-yards deep.
What this also means is we as fans could very well see the biggest improvement statistically from this very unit. It also makes the return contest one to watch as we head towards training camp and the pre-season.
The race figures to be three or four deep. Adam Humphries, Bernard Reedy, Bobo Wilson and Jacquizz Rodgers seem like candidates to fight for the job.
Humphries is better suited as a punt returner and hasn’t done much in the kick return game up to this point. With his role in the offense, it’s likely the best option to keep him doing more of the same while trying to find ways to get him loose.
This leaves the other three. Rodgers has his running back gig, but with the addition of Ronald Jones and emergence last year of Peyton Barber, his security isn’t as strong as it once was.
Wilson has one catch for one touchdown. Good percentage, but not much real production. He’ll be looking to get on the field any way he can, and he seems to me the most likely to fulfill the scenario we discussed above.
Finally, there’s Reedy. He has the speed and experience as a kick returner. He could certainly make some waves taking advantage of these changes, and he’ll need to if he’s going to make the opening day roster.
There’s just too much depth at receiver for Reedy to have a reasonable chance to make the team without adding value as a return man.
And of course, there’s the possibility of any number of rookies, free-agents and otherwise unknowns to try and take the title as being the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ best return specialist.
No matter what happens in the end, it’s likely these rules will lead to increased return averages and it also makes the battle for return man just a little more interesting.