Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Justin Rogers discuss the Detroit Lions as training camp continues, with the New York Giants in town for three practices and the second preseason game. The Detroit News
Allen Park — One of the most difficult plays for an NFL team to accurately simulate during practice is kickoffs. Given the injury risks tied to the high-speed, high-impact situations, most teams prefer to break apart the elements of kickoffs into separate drills, establishing a foundation of fundamentals to be incorporated during game action.
The trickiness of preparation has been increased this year following a series of offseason rule changes to kickoffs. Gone are the running starts, wedge blocks or blocks of any kind within the first 15 yards, alterations meant to make the plays safer.
Until the joint practices and preseason opener with the Oakland Raiders last week, the Detroit Lions only had a conceptual idea about how the changes would impact strategy, but now, with a few examples on film, coach Matt Patricia has a better grasp on how things will work.
"I think it will be interesting to see how everybody does it, but personnel is going to be a big one right away," Patricia said. "I think with some of those blocks that were initially set up in the old rule, where you could have some bigger guys, borderline big, athletic guys that could move a little bit in space, they had a pretty defined role and you could get some pretty good divide in the kickoff coverage standpoint.
"But definitely, it’s a space game (now)," Patricia said. "You need some speed on the field, you need to be able to handle some of the different movement that the kickoff coverage team is doing and then obviously from a ball handling situation in the back end."
So the athletic offensive lineman you used to see on kickoffs, they're being replaced by quicker options, tight ends, linebackers and even receivers. With special teams being such a critical part of roster makeup, could this lead to a shift in how teams are constructed?
Patricia isn't ready to go that far.
"I don’t know if one special teams area will affect the overall roster situation," he said. "I think in the end, we are always going try to make the best decisions as a team and make sure we have the best players on the roster overall that will help us win in all facets of the game. It might put a little bit more emphasis on a particular position group, but I don’t know if the overall will change from that standpoint."
Patricia also expects one element of the kickoff change to remain a mystery, at least until the start of the regular season.
"When we get to the regular season, the biggest kind of adjustment everyone is going to have to see what type of kicks are coming at us," Patricia said. "I think everything is kind of vanilla right now, it’s pretty basic. I don’t think anybody is going to show anything too much, too soon. But when we get to the season it will be interesting to see, with as talented as the kickers are in this league, I think there are some different things they can do there to put a lot of stress on the return team.”