RENTON, Wash. – Leon Washington put the Seattle Seahawks’ dominant special teams unit on full display with a two-touchdown performance in a win over San Diego last year.
Under the NFL’s new kickoff return rules, that wouldn’t have happened.
In an effort to curb collision-related injuries on high-speed returns, the league has implemented a number of changes to the structure of the kickoff.
The ball has been moved up from the kicking team’s 30 to its 35, leading to many more balls going in the end zone of the receiving team and reducing the incentive to bring the ball out. Asked about his first response to the changes, Washington was succinct – and definite.
“Nothing I can say in public,” he said. “You have to understand with the NFL, safety is their priority. So, I definitely understand that part. But for teams like us, Chicago, Arizona, Cleveland, it’s a big deal to win the field position battle with special teams, and now, they’re taking that part of the game away from us.”
Former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira, now an analyst for Fox Sports, has said that the rule unfairly penalizes teams that have put a roster priority on their return units.
Seahawks special teams coach Brian Schneider said his primary concern echoed Washington’s: With a smaller focus on excellent kick returners and return coverage players, those roster spots will go to other types of players.
“More and more, it’s a priority for players to be able to do a lot of things,” Schneider said.
Washington, who has rushed for 1,882 yards and 14 touchdowns in his five-year career, will be featured more in Seattle’s offensive game plan. That’s the side benefit for some returners, and Washington believes there could be more of those players on the way.
“It’s going to take some coaching strategy to get some of those guys in the return game to get them more utilized on offense,” Washington said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out.”