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New rule will alter kickoff plans for Eagles

UPDATED: Mon., April 23, 2018, 8:24 p.m.

Eastern Washington’s Dre' Sonte Dorton averaged 27.4 yards per kickoff return last season. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington’s Dre' Sonte Dorton averaged 27.4 yards per kickoff return last season. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Eastern Washington football coach Aaron Best seldom has trouble fielding questions about football – or anything else.

However, Best opted for a fair catch when asked this week how the Eagles will be fielding kickoffs under a controversial rule approved last week by the NCAA.

“I’m going to have to hear from some officials,” Best said as he looked ahead to Saturday’s scrimmage at Roos Field.

Along with other rules changes, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel has given its final OK to allow kick returners to fair-catch a ball between the goal line and the 25-yard line.

Instead of the ball being placed at the spot of the catch, it will be placed at the 25.

The idea is to reduce injuries, even at the cost of all but eliminating one of the most exciting plays in the game. NFL and college rule-makers acknowledge that kickoffs produce a high proportion of injuries.

That was fine with Best, who praised the idea of safety-first before pondering what’s next for the Eagle special teams.

Ideally, Best said the Eagles will “implement some of these tactics now, and not wait until the fall.”

Until now, many teams – including the Eagles – would kick the ball to about the 10-yard line and to one side of the field in order to pin the returner in the corner.

That won’t work under the new rules.

“You’re going to have to fair-catch it if you can’t guarantee you’re going to get the ball past the 25,” said Eastern special teams coach Heath Pulver.

“It’s something that we’re going to have to sit down and discuss,” said Pulver, who already was contemplating more pooch kicks to opponents.

The new rule didn’t sit well with Dre’Sonte Dorton, the Eagles’ top kickoff returner last year.

“Why would they change it?” Dorton asked Wednesday before practice at Roos Field. “I was surprised to see that happen.”

“Returning kicks is a lot of fun,” said Dorton, who averaged 27.4 yards on 22 returns last year.

Asked what he’ll do next year when the ball is falling into his hands at the 15-yard line, Dorton was quick on his feet with a reply.

“I’m still going to return it,” Dorton said.

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