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Archive for Monday, October 3, 2005

Wood: Move kickers back

October 3, 2005

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Touchback.

Is there any word more disappointing in the language of football?

When it's time to change possessions voluntarily, any of three things can happen. Two have the potential to be incredibly exciting. One makes you turn to your friend and ask, "Is there any more beer out in the truck?"

Consider the choices:

A. Ball is kicked. A return specialist makes the catch, jukes a defender, follows a vicious block and strides upfield. He hitches right, turns on the afterburners and crosses the goal line with one finger pointed in the air. Ladies love him. Crowd goes wild.

B. Ball is kicked. A return specialist brings it in, jukes a defender but soon wishes he never did. After making the wrong turn at block No. 3, a 250-pound horse hits him so hard, his mouthpiece ends up in a tuba. Ladies love somebody else. Crowd still goes wild.

C. A touchback.

Which one stinks? I'll give you three guesses.

Of course, there is a way to increase the chance of choices (A) and (B) occurring, all the while taking away the chance of (C) putting us to sleep. But we need the NCAA's help.

Obviously, with field position and other inconsistent factors, touchbacks in the punting game aren't going away until every punter has the precision of a surgeon and the telekinetic abilities to instruct a football to bounce a certain way. Until that day, I'll give punters the benefit of the doubt.

But considering how abundant touchbacks are during kickoffs, why not make placekickers boot from five yards deeper at the 30-yard line, thus making returns more likely?

In Kansas University's 30-17 loss to No. 15 Texas Tech on Saturday, a total of 11 kickoffs took place after touchdowns, field goals and at the beginning of each half. Neither KU's Scott Webb nor Tech's Alex Trlico is known for having uranium in his kicking foot.

Yet of the 11 kickoffs, nine sailed deep into the end zone for touchbacks. A 10th was caught at the one-yard line.

You don't see such a boring percentage in the NFL, which starts five yards farther back and consequently doesn't discourage what potentially could be a pretty darn exciting 12 seconds of football.

The fact is, more and more of these kickers are solid all-around athletes. They're doing total-body weightlifting programs, are learning from kickers of yesteryear and consequently are blasting footballs farther than ever before.

Former KU kicker Johnny Beck could've been mistaken for a linebacker. Heck, KU linebacker Mike Rivera, an aforementioned 250-pound horse, kicked touchbacks in high school at Shawnee Mission Northwest.

Much like college baseball, which has had to evolve its rules to keep up with the increased technology of aluminum bats, the NCAA needs to realize that kickers are getting stronger and stronger, yet touchbacks remain as boring as oatmeal.

This is hardly asking for a dramatic change in the way things are done. Just warn placekickers that starting next year, they'll have to scoot five yards back before taking aim at the end zone.

And, consequently, forewarn return specialists that once a mouthpiece leaves the playing field, it's finders-keepers. Tuba players have teeth to protect, too.

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