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Mick Shots: Spice Up Kickoffs

Mickey Spagnola

FRISCO, TX – Hip Hip Hooray.

The NFL’s kickoff witch is dead.

Yes, one of the most boring, meaningless, and least impactful plays in 60 minutes of an NFL game since the league rightly put rules in place to reduce injuries caused by this somewhat barbaric way of starting a match, a half or playing after a score has been scored. , uh, thrown on the sidewalk.

And the loudest cheers you heard Tuesday when NFL owners overwhelmingly approved this change came from a KaVontae Turpin doing backflips. The Cowboys return specialist will now have an increased opportunity to use his special ability to return kicks in the final year of his initial three-year NFL contract.

Touchbacks are a thing of the past. In fact, will be penalized if executed.

Think about what the NFL game had become. About 93,000 people are all hyped for the start of, say, the Cowboys-Eagles game at AT&T Stadium, with the outcome having a huge impact on the NFC East title race. Everyone is standing, waving the white napkins placed on each seat. Players are lifted onto the field, raising their hands upward to further encourage themselves and the crowd. The anticipation of this opening ritual of the match threw the place into a frenzy.

Brandon Aubrey approaches the ball at the 35-yard line and, well whipped, delivers the ball into the end zone as directed for one of his NFL-leading 99 kickoff touchbacks in 2023. Speak from Deflate Gate.

Might as well have stuck a pin in an excitement balloon. The game stopped. The ball is placed on the 25 yard line. This has happened more than 90% of the time in 2023. Now play ball.

No more. At least for this 2024 trial season for the new look NFL.

If you’re not familiar with this change, just call it an XFL kickoff from last season. Or tune in when the 2024 UFL season begins on Saturday or Easter Sunday to catch kickoffs from the opening of the new combined XFL and USFL league.

More intrigue.

So for a simplified explanation, the kicker always puts the ball in play from his 35 yard line. But the 10 cover guys line up at the returning team’s 40 and can’t move until the ball is caught or lands between the 20 and the goal line. Nine guys from the return team will line up within five yards of the coverage team, between the 30 and the 35. They can’t move either. Only the kicker.

For safety reasons, this will reduce the physical impact without anyone starting and give the returner a chance to run with the ball. A bit like a melee play. During the 2023 XFL season, 94% of kickoffs were returned.

Kicks below 20 of the landing zone will be penalized as if it were an out of bounds kick. Balls always come out at the 40. Kicks landing in the end zone will go out at the 30 instead of the 25. The emphasis is on accuracy.

Why, in two seasons in the USFL, Turpin, with kickoffs starting at 20, returned 31 kickoffs in 20 regular season games for an average of 26.7 yards. In his two seasons with the Cowboys under those antiquated kickoff rules, he was only able to return 31 times in 34 regular-season NFL games, with a low of 10 last season as teams played down deliberately threatens his return with touchbacks.

Well, now this. I can not wait. Let’s go.

Kicking the ball: Now, that was a thing last year when reckless rookie Brandon Aubrey became a Pro Bowl kicker for the Cowboys in his third season of competitive football and his first time in the NFL after two seasons in the USFL. It was another thing that Aubrey went 10 of 10 for over 50 yards, with lengths of 58, 59 and 60. But you guarantee that Aubrey’s ability to handle kicks from his days of football will be even more important with these new kick-off rules. Being able to control the ball, such as landing between the 20 line and the goal line, will be a real art. Also be sure that special teams coach John Fassel will have Aubrey work on not only placing his kicks in the landing zone, but also on directional kicks, like trying to place his kicks between the numbers and the sideline, too, to aid coverage. Kickers will become as important as returns under these new rules. Hell, the kicker’s ability to control the ball might be even more valuable since once a returner breaks the only line of defense, it’s clear he’s sailing for about 70 yards unless the kicker makes a tackle in the open field. Ha, one year: Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy is constantly asked about the final year of his five-year contract and his assistants are now on one-year contracts. Well, welcome to most of our worlds. I wonder how many members of the media who ask these questions have multi-year contracts. Man, working for newspapers during my career, we basically worked day to day, right? It was definitely a motivating pressure to be at your best every day, without dragging. Big gap: Many continue to insist that the Cowboys simply need to sign wide receiver CeeDee Lamb to an extension to lessen the impact of his fifth-year $17.99 million option cap hit in order to create more ceiling space. But it takes two to tango. And I guarantee his reps don’t want to move until Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson, facing the same fifth-year option, signs his and probably vice-versa. Some reports suggest Jefferson once turned down a deal averaging $30 million per year. Of course, neither party wants to set the market value and then the other goes over it with their agreement. It’s a complicated game of cat and mouse, and even more so when the raw numbers suggest Tyreek Hill’s deal with Miami averages $30 million per year. Of course, the Cowboys realize that Lamb’s market value will be upwards of $20-25 million per year, but the fine print of Hill’s contract reveals that realistically it’s three years with $75 million in cap time. guaranteed, as $45 million is invested in the final season of 2026. Just know that there are 16 receivers averaging over $20 million, and Lamb is coming off a record season for the Cowboys franchise, beating marks held by three of their Hall of Fame catchers. Stay tuned. Words to win by: When McCarthy spoke at NFL meetings this week and hinted at his winning philosophy, Green Bay’s Super Bowl-winning head coach said, “The defense should always have the ability to keep you in the game.” win the game, and I think that’s essential in playoff football. So we can assume that the defense giving up 40 points to the Packers in that 48-32 first-round loss didn’t match his assessment. Shoulder: The key takeaway during Mike’s 40-minute interview at the NFC Coaches’ Breakfast on Tuesday was revealing that Mazi Smith and Luke Schoonmaker were recovering from offseason shoulder surgeries. Mazi played through his shoulder issue, which could have affected playing only those four snaps in the playoff loss to Green Bay. Both should be ready for the start of training camp. What the Cowboys do or don’t do in the draft or free agency could say a lot about how much confidence they have in last year’s first-round pick to make a significant second-year jump. Shorties: Speaking of one-year contracts, the fact that the Cowboys seem comfortable with Dak Prescott playing this season on the final year of his contract could have undertones of renegotiation since it takes two to dance on these extensions…And even though the running back room is short on experience and proven talent, McCarthy made it clear to expect the addition of an experienced fullback and a pick draft, which is a great idea either way… While expecting DeMarvion Overshown to return from his ACL repair in time for training camp. to somewhat restock the linebacker position, he almost forgot how impressed the Cowboys were with rookie free agent tight end John Stephens until he also suffered a season-ending ACL tear in camp. ‘training. He’s also expected to be ready for training camp to add an interesting hand in that room… Obviously, the Cowboys were hoping to re-sign defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins for the veteran exception in order to save space, because the Seahawks really didn’t do it. go too far by signing the veteran stopper to a one-year deal worth $1.96 million, with only a $300,000 signing bonus guaranteed. Or maybe they trust Mazi… Big 12 Conference Pro Day practice begins first thing Thursday here at the Ford Center, where the conference’s draft-eligible players will run through drills like this that individual schools would normally do during their Individual Pro. Days on campus… And don’t ask why Texas held its Pro Day practices last week because, uh, they’re in the SEC now.

I thought Mike McCarthy was an interesting look at what the offensive-oriented veteran coach thinks about quarterbacks these days, especially since the top two picks in this year’s draft could possibly be two very mobile quarterbacks, the last two Heisman Trophy winners in USC. Caleb Williams and Jayden Daniels of LSU.

“You have to be special to be able to win all day with your pocket,” McCarthy said, knowing that these days, pure pocket players are a dying breed coming out of college. “I always thought you had to be able to play in the pocket and out of the pocket.”

Maybe I learned that from all those years in Green Bay with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

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