Kickoffs will look different this season following the NCAA’s Playing Rules Oversight Panel approving a rule change which causes any kick fair-caught behind the 25-yard-line to result in a touchback. Kirby Smart addressed the rule change, and his feelings were mixed.
The reasoning for the rule change is player safety, something Smart said he is, “obviously in support of.”
“I think anything you can do to make players safer, it’s a wise decision,” he said.
Smart added that the long-term statistics reveal higher rates of injury and concussion on kickoffs than most other plays, and fewer returned kicks could help cut back on unnecessary injuries.
Smart is wary enough of the dangers of kickoffs that he said his team never practices them going full speed.
“It’s dangerous,” he said. “You’ve got guys running 40 yards into each other. We don’t ever do that.”
Yet, despite the rule change making the game potentially safer, Smart did lament that it could devalue the NCAA’s best kickers. He said having a player capable of kicking the ball consistently between the 5-yard line and the endzone with good hang time as a distinct advantage prior to the new rule.
Because Georgia never attempted to pin teams deep last season, when Rodrigo Blankenship set a Georgia record for touchbacks in a season, Smart said the new rule will not change how the team approaches kickoffs themselves.
“We never told Rodrigo kick it high and short,” he said. “We told him to kick it out of the endzone. And that’s what we want him to do.”
As for how Georgia will handle being on the receiving end of kickoffs, Smart said things won’t be drastically different in that department either. He said he’s started telling kick returners the hang time of kicks they are fielding during drills, conditioning them to be aware of how close the coverage team might be to them when they field the ball.
Outside of that, it’s all going to come down to the matchup.
“Higher, shorter kicks will be fair caught,” Smart said. “Kicks we don’t think we can get to the 25, we’ll be better off fair catching. A lot of it depends on what type kicker you’re facing.”
(You can follow Nathan Berg on Twitter @NathanxBerg)
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