"This could be a season of records when it comes to kick returns" ~ Sterling Sharpe on Playbook on NFL Network
I know that not everyone on AP gets the NFL Network, and I happen to get it, and also watch it religiously so I thought I would pass this along. This was a portion of a conversation between Mike Mayock (former NFL DB), Solomon Wilcots (former NFL DB), and Sterling Sharpe (former NFL WR, and arguably a hall of famer, though not in the HoF) on the show Playbook.
Playbook is a show that NFLN features that goes a little more in-depth into the big plays of the weekend, breaking down specifically what made them successful. The Chiefs were also featured on this show a few weeks back, for those who missed it.
The trio was talking about the recent changes involving the wedge formation on kickoff and punt returns now have to abide by. These changes forbid the use of wedges that utilize more than 3 players at a time.
"Something has jumped out at us" Solomon Wilcots said to Mike Mayock, "through four weeks of the season, eight kick returns for touchdowns for touchdowns. Please explain to me what I'm seeing and why it's happening"
Mike Mayock's theory was that it was all due to the rule change i cited above.
"Most people thought that would make returns more difficult for the returning team. I have a special teams coach who is a friend of mine tell me this summer that he thought the opposite would happen. Because the wedge is like a magnet — it attracts the cover team. We all know where the football is going."
"Find the wedge, and you find the guy carrying the ball" Solomon Wilcots said.
"Exactly" Mike Mayock responded. "Now you break the wedge up and suddenly you've gotta defend 53 yards of width."
He went on to say that in the special teams status quo, if you get past the initial cluster of people, suddenly you've got more room than you've had in previous years because the entire special teams unit is not congregating around the ball (wedge).
The reason I bring this up, is that it seems like with Scott Pioli we are all cursing/questioning some of his decisions at the time, but it seems like a majority of them seem to make a whole lot more sense "down the road."
The most aggressive example of this, in my own opinion, is the drafting of Javier Arenas and Dexter McCluster in this past year's draft. I have no way of determining if this rule change played into his decision to draft these two players. But i do know that if i were a GM in a city that lacked a real returner and saw a way to use a rule change to gain a VERY quick advantage over an opponent, I would take it. In fact, I would go after it HARD. Though I'll admit that Scott Pioli appears much smarter than I ;)
This rule change basically lets us run our special teams unit like a spread out zone blocking offensive line. The returner (read: stud) gets the ball, reads quickly where his gaps are, and explodes.
Now we have two VERY capable young guys who can come in and make every special teams unit in the NFL wet their pants, while learning and growing along with these new rules.
We have a very talented general manager right now, ladies and gentlemen, who I would argue has a gift of foresight that is rivaled in the NFL in my opinion. Enjoy it :)