The moving of the kickoff line from the 30 up to the 35 is perhaps the most interesting and consequential rules change in the NFL this year. At the very least, it's a topic about which head coach Bill Belichick has many opinions. He shared several of them with the media during his daily press briefing Tuesday.
Because of the leg strength of NFL kickers, most kickoffs will now sail fairly easily into the end zone, unless intentionally kicked short. In the past, when kickoffs went into the end zone, more often than not, return men would take a knee and settle for the touchback.
From now on, though, the rules of thumb might vary from team depending on what the coaching staffs prefer to have their players do.
"That's one of the things that we're kind of looking at just from the timing standpoint," Belichick stated. "We have rules for our returners, whether it be punts or kickoffs, and they encompass really all the situations that we can think of relative to the distance of the kick, the height of the kick, the situation in the game, the return that we have on and so forth. It's a pretty extensive list and a lot of that is teamwork and communication on kickoff returns with the short returner.
"We've covered a lot of things - probably not everything that we will cover with those guys, and some of it we're trying to fine tune ourselves."
Other factors to consider: how the kicker kicks off. Does he line-drive the ball to get distance, or can he hang it high and still send it deep, like New England's Stephen Gostkowski can? And how effective is your coverage team at keeping the returner from getting past the 20-yard line?
"If you can't cover it very well, then you'd probably take every touchback you can get," Belichick continued. "If you feel you've got a lot of confidence in your coverage team and your kicker's ability to place the ball with both location and hang time, then you might feel differently about that. That might not be the same every game; the situation may change.
"That's one the thing about playing here that we have to be very aware of in the kicking game - just how situations change every single week. If you're playing in a dome in St. Louis or Detroit or wherever, you know what it's going to be every single week, so you can plan accordingly. In our situation, because the elements affect the kicking game first before they affect even the passing game, we have a lot of situations that we have to deal with: we've got crosswinds, we kick into the wind, we kick with the wind, we've got weather conditions in addition to all the other variables of just the team you're playing and what they do and so forth.
"And the bad side of it is defensively, on the return team, we have to be ready for all of those different things, too: where they're going to kick it and what they're going to do and how the elements affect us. It's an interesting part of the game, it really is."
The big blue line
Except for their size, most offensive lineman aren't usually the most recognizable players on a football team. But New England's o-line has caught the attention of Hall of Fame coach John Madden.
After practice Tuesday, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Matt Light and the rest of the returning members of the Patriots offensive line received the Madden Protectors Award Presented by Prilosec OTC. According to the official press release, the award "recognizes the accomplishments of the highest performing offensive line unit and their best-in-class ability to provide consistent, powerful protection for their teammates."
The Patriots were selected based on a combination of analysis by Madden and fan voting. The Madden Protectors Award Trophy will be on display throughout the 2011 season at the Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon.
Put me in, Coach
In the preseason opener against Jacksonville, most of the regular starters dressed but did not see the field. The game-time reps were reserved mostly for the younger and newer players on the roster.
Some veterans were hoping to get some game action in the second game at Tampa Bay Thursday.
Wide receiver Deion Branch, for example, was asked if he lobbies head coach Bill Belichick for playing time. Branch joked in response, "Depends what day it is."
Branch can sense, though, that it's getting closer to that time when he and the offense will need to start clicking in game-like conditions.
"The coaches started putting a couple of plays in here, moving guys around, see what it looks like on film … the pace is starting to pick up a lot in camp. It's moving along."
"I'm excited to get out there and play with these guys," added linebacker Jerod Mayo, "to build the camaraderie, get out there with Vince [Wilfork] and the rest of the guys and have a great game."
More Tues. Camp Notes
Weather: Overcast, breezy, low 80s
Who's Hot: Matthew Slater
With injuries to Taylor Price and Julian Edelman leaving the wide receiver corps thin, the fourth-year man is having his best camp yet as a pass catcher.
Who's Not: Brian Hoyer
The backup QB is splitting time and second-series reps more frequently with rookie Ryan Mallett and has had a number of passes picked off the past couple of days during 7-on-7 and full team action.
Play of the Day:
During the team period at the end of practice, quarterback Tom Brady found receiver Chad Ochocinco tearing toward the end zone down the right hash marks in the middle of the field. Ochocinco, a good 10 yards behind the nearest trailing defender, easily hauled in the perfect pass and completed the play for a score.
Quote of the Day: "Hey, I could talk about kickoff returns all day, let me tell you that. That was my life for 10 years almost."
- Bill Belichick, who used to coach special teams early in his NFL career