Alex Henery has booted all five of his kickoffs in the 2011 preseason into the end zone. All but one of them resulted in a touchback.
The trend is no different around the NFL as the league implemented a new rule this offseason moving the spot of the kickoff from the 30-yard line to the 35, 5 yards closer to the opposing end zone. In the first week of the preseason, 32.1 percent of all kickoffs were touchbacks. That was nearly double the percentage for all kickoffs in the 2010 season that resulted in touchbacks (16.4 percent).
Certainly, Henery's average is expected to drop as the season continues, but if the kickoff phase of special teams is severely impacted will that make particular players not as valuable to the team? Not necessarily in the eyes of special teams coordinator Bobby April.
"I think you'll see as the season goes, you'll still be returning 65 percent of the kicks. As it goes later into the season and in the postseason, you'll see more. I think it's obviously critically important to have the best guys on the field, but I don't know how it will affect things," April said. "You keep the best guys that can play on teams."
April believes that the philosophy of returning kicks will adjust with the rule change. In previous years, most kickoffs that landed in the end zone would not be returned for fear of being tackled inside the 20-yard line.
"The other day we returned one that was 9 yards (deep). I know the opening kick by Washington against the Steelers was brought out from 9 yards. You're definitely going to see people taking a shot, and that's a big gamble because there is a real opportunity to tackle them inside the 20. You don't want to be too stubborn," April said.
"I think there comes a point where it's a little bit like waving the white flag when you take a knee. ... I think that ruffles people the wrong way, and people just on their competitiveness that say, 'I might lose this battle but I'm not taking this.' I'm pretty positive that people will start to have that mentality because people have started to bring them out deeper than ever before this preseason. I don't think that'll change."
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