Atlanta Falcons: Keith Armstrong checks in on possible kickoff changes

Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong units were ranked second in the league last season by FootballOutsiders.com    Curtis Compton, ccompton@ajc.com

Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong units were ranked second in the league last season by FootballOutsiders.com Curtis Compton, ccompton@ajc.com

FLOWERY BRANCH — An NFL rule change that would end kickoffs would be heavily scrutinized and studied by Falcons president Rich McKay, who’s chair of the NFL’s competition committee.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell floated the idea as an effort to make the game safer during a recent interview with Time magazine.

“Anything that is going to increase player safety is pretty good,” Falcons cornerback Christopher Owens said Friday. “But, we are all used to kickoffs now.”

Under the plan, which Goodell said will be considered by the competition committee, kickoffs would be eliminated. Instead, the team that would kick off would get the ball at its own 30-yard line. But instead of starting at first-and-10, the down and distance would be fourth-and-15. At that point, the team could elect either to go for the first down or punt the ball away. If the team chose to go for it and failed, the other team would get the ball at that spot.

The idea was first proposed by Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano, who was the coach at Rutgers in 2010 when defensive tackle Eric LeGrand was paralyzed during a kickoff return.

For now, Falcons special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, plans to keep coaching the kickoff.

“If they take it out, they have to do what they have to do,” Armstrong said. “I’m going to continue to coach it until they do it. That’s been my approach on it. As long as it’s part of the game, we need to go coach it and win.”

But Armstrong has thought about how he would deploy his unit, especially on the fourth-and-15, punt or go-for-it situation.

“You are probably going to end up with your defense on the field in a lot of those scenarios,” Armstrong said. “You would have what you call the punt-safe team.

“When you see the punt-safe team, you see the returner with primarily your defense on the field or you could go with a hybrid group where you’d have three defensive linemen in there and five core special-teams players around them to stop the fake and you’d still be able to return the ball.”

Armstrong believes the move would be designed to end the blocking wedge. Several players have gotten hurt running down field and attempting to break up the wedge.

The NFL has been inching toward the eventual elimination of the kickoff. In March 2009, the league eliminated wedge blocking with three or more players on kickoffs. It is still legal to form two-man wedges.

Last season, the kickoff was moved to the 35-yard line and kickoff returns dropped from 80.1 percent in 2010 to 53.4 percent in 2011, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Also, touchbacks increased from 16.4 percent to 43.5 percent from 2010 to 2011.

“You would get into a lot of different personnel groupings that we already have, but you would actually use them more often,” Armstrong said.

Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones is not a big fan of the concept of removing the kickoff.

“Kickers are not 100 percent on getting touchbacks,” Jones said. “They can miss sometimes. That’s a big part of the game. That’s a very big part of the game.”

Also, several players make NFL teams by first showing what they can do on special teams.

“That’s eliminating a unit and also that’s jobs for other people to play,” Jones said. “That’s going to eliminate a lot of jobs for people, too. I’m with special teams. I don’t think they should take it out.”

Owens, one of the Falcons’ top special-teams performers, believes the coaches and players will adjust.

“If the commissioner changes the rule, that’s what we’ll go with,” Owens said. “You’ve got to adjust. That would mostly be on the coaches, and we’d just go from there.”

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17 comments Add your comment

Esquire

December 8th, 2012
11:01 am

WE ARE THE MIGHTY MIGHTY FALCONS!!

AFmaleFalcon

December 8th, 2012
11:31 am

The Falcons need to come out and play like the “Dirty Birds” of old. They don’t need to let the Panthers bully them off the offensive line….so RISE UP BIRDS!!!

SawThat1nce

December 8th, 2012
12:07 pm

Idiotic idea, proposed by the headcoach of the Tampon Bay Bucanners.

Mike Franklin

December 8th, 2012
12:20 pm

Somebody needs to snag Goodell with a butterfly net before he totally screws this game.

[...] to Original Content From Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog): read more Related Articles Share About Author [...]

ernisTbass

December 8th, 2012
3:38 pm

they could flip a coin, if you win you start on the 30 lose and you start on the 10, but you never know when someone could hurt their thumb flipping the coin

Esquire

December 8th, 2012
4:51 pm

SawThat1nce

December 8th, 2012
12:07 pm

Idiotic idea, proposed by the headcoach of the Tampon Bay Bucanners.

*******************************************************************

@SawThat1nce: You’re such a peeshwank, this is a rule that’s been long overdue and should be deployed as soon as possible. Anything to keep our lovely boys from being bruised.

The Biscuit

December 8th, 2012
6:06 pm

Moronic idea.

The Biscuit

December 8th, 2012
6:10 pm

Mr. Ledbetter. Any news on how the rookie Wisconsin fullback is coming along from his injury? Hope he’ll be back next season and catching some screens out of the backfield!

Randy

December 8th, 2012
7:04 pm

I hope they’re not serious. If you want to eliminate injuries lets just not play the game. Even in flag football people get hurt. Don’t get me wrong I’m all for making the game safer but not at the expense of ruining the game.

Steve

December 8th, 2012
7:12 pm

If Rodger Goodell were the commissioner of NASCAR he’d impose a speed limit at the tracks for driver safety.

Rosco

December 8th, 2012
9:16 pm

We are the Falcons, not the dirty birds. This is not 1998. Have you seen Jamal Anderson on the field doing the stupid dirty bird dance? I don’t think so. Have you heard one of the current players referring to being the dirty bird? i don’t think so. Is our defense still called the Grits Bliss as they were once called back in the early 90’s.. I don’t think so.
The Dirty Birds died off when the players of that time move on from the team. People who still think this are living in a different time than everyone else.

NeverSeenThis

December 9th, 2012
12:07 am

@rosco actually it was gritz blitz. And if i recall juilo jones did a partial dirty bird dance after he scored a touchdown. Don’t hate on some of the long time fans who like to refer to their team how they want. I personally like the name dirty birds.

Norman Cochran

December 9th, 2012
6:22 am

I tell you what, if you are so worried about injuries that bad, then just change it from tackle to FLAG football. Then if anyone gets TOO PHYSICAL fine them and suspend them without pay. Lets make everyone afraid to play and then it will be ok.

D. Orlando Ledbetter

December 9th, 2012
8:24 am

The Biscuit — We need to check up on Bradie and get you all an update.

LDawg

December 9th, 2012
9:12 am

Why not wrap them all in bubble wrap and say that if anyone touches them – it’s a penalty? This is lame! You’re already kicking off from further out – this is a stupid idea. I get where Schiano gets it from since his player had that accident, but that was a freak thing, not something that happens all the time. I agree with Julio. A lot of players make it on a team because of special teams play.

wisconsinfalcons fan

December 9th, 2012
9:40 am

it is a bad idea Julio is right why not make it touch football its call the NFL, play the game like it suppose to be played my goodness, if they keep changing the rule you might as well let your grandma play geeze, enough already, as for the dirty birds I always like it, who cares how long ago it was it’S still here like it or not, 12-1 now let’s get it done, JUST WIN BABY