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Logjam at tight end


Marky from Walworth, WI

With the new kickoff rule change, I was hoping to see kickers attempting to loft the ball and pin it within the 10 to allow for a potential play. Do you expect to see a strategy like that (or any others) develop as the season progresses, or are they just going to continue hitting them out of the end zone and settling for touchbacks all year? If that's the case, why even bother with kicking the ball? Might as well just start the game at the 20.

You're right and that's why I think we'll see the special teams coaches' answer to this rules change when the regular season begins. In the preseason, however, it's just going to be bombs away. Shawn Slocum said this rule is going to change the game and I believe him. Special teams coaches don't get paid for being uncreative. Special teams, in my opinion, has been the most creative phase of the game over the last 20 years, and it's because special teams now has its own coaching staff. These guys get paid to coordinate and innovate. The "sky" kick is one of those innovations and I think we're going to see it taken to a whole new level of execution this season. I think we're going to see more effective use of the squib kick. Why? Because football coaches are aggressive people and they won't be satisfied with the 20-yard line as being a starting point. They'll wanna do better than that.

Greg from Carlsbad, CA

I don't doubt Obama knew about the asterisk. Although it occurred a full year before the presidential election, reports of the asterisk appeared on ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and probably several other major news organizations. Its all-importance cannot be underestimated.

I think it taught us all an important lesson: Trying to have a little fun can be dangerous, even when you speak the truth.

John from Eau Claire, WI

Assuming the Packers keep four tight ends, do you see Tom Crabtree or Ryan Taylor as the No. 4?

Tight end is a position of intense competition. Aaron Rodgers spoke very highly on Tuesday of Crabtree's performance in this camp. Meanwhile, Taylor has started to make a move. Andrew Quarless is a big guy a lot of teams would love to have. D.J. Williams hasn't disappointed.

"Red Clay" Lee from Circus City, OK

When is there a deadline to put guys on the PUP list?

Before he participates in a practice; that's why you see so many players being placed on the physically unable to perform list when they report to training camp, because once they practice, they can't go on PUP. The player may have reported with nothing more than a sore hamstring, but the team will put the player on PUP as a precaution; he can come off PUP at any time prior to final cuts. If he's still on PUP after final cuts, then he has to stay there until Week 6 of the season, at which time the team has a three-week window to put the player on the 53-man active roster or on the injured reserve list.

Terrence from Austin, TX

I'm even more confused about the kickoff coin toss now. I understand there are two separate elections, but what about the election to defend a side?

Don't let it confuse you. Take it one step at a time. A team winning the coin toss may elect one of four options: kick, receive, defend a goal or defer. Once the team that won the coin toss makes an election, it is the other team's turn to choose. If the team that won the toss elected to receive, then it's been decided that the team that lost the toss will kick, so the only choice remaining is to pick a goal to defend. I guess they could elect to defer their choice, but that's already been decided, too, right? To start the second half, the team that lost the toss has first pick. If it elects to receive, then the team that won the toss will pick a goal to defend. Wind is what confuses the issue and that's where language becomes important. Wind might make defending a goal a more attractive option than receiving the kick, so the coach will instruct his captain to elect to defend a goal, but he has to make sure the captain never uses the "K" word in his election, because it's then very possible the opposing team will get the ball and the wind. Do a search on Abner Haynes and "We'll kick to the clock." It's the classic example.

Andy from Cadillac, MI

Back in 1994, the NFL moved the kickoff line from the 35 to the 30 to allow for more kickoff returns. I don't seem to recall any uproar over that move. I don't really see why moving it back is such a big deal, either. I mean, I get why the Bears and some other teams would be upset for selfish reasons, but it seems to me there is a lot of commotion over those five yards.

The intent of this rule is not competition-based, it's safety-based. That's why the league isn't allowing teams to elect to move the restraining line back. Look, this is new to all of us, but we're just going to have to accept it, and I'm having as much trouble as anyone. When I was a kid growing up in a steel town, there was a big sign at the worker's entrance to the mill. The sign read, "Safety first!" On the sign was the date the last accident in the mill occurred. Imagine that same sign at the players' entrance to every stadium in the league.

Tom from Chesterfield, VA

What do you think of the philosophy of flip-flopping offensive linemen so they can learn more than one position?

The more things you can do, the more valuable you are. I think learning multiple positions might slow a young player's progress, but it'll deepen his understanding of what the cumulative effort is, and it'll give the team flexibility that'll not only help it on game day, but will help it in shaping its roster and finding a way to go heavy at a position to accommodate an overload of talent. In Jacksonville, Jack Del Rio is big on cross-training his linebackers. A lot of teams like to do the same with their defensive backs, so they can use the same personnel in a lot of different packages. It's the way of the new NFL. This is becoming more and more a game of intense strategy, and maneuverability allows for it. Count the times Dom Capers uses the word maneuverability.

Jeff from Topeka, KS

Enjoy your column and learning a lot from it. Since we don't have all the film a team has, what's the best way for fans to learn to watch the game and players from a coach's perspective?

Wanna be a coach? OK, start by being a position coach. Pick a position you wanna coach. Now, during the games, watch only the position you've elected to coach, because that's what position coaches do. First and foremost for any coach is the performance of his unit. If the team wins but your unit had a bad day, you had a bad day. If the team loses but your unit had a good day, your day wasn't half bad, so to speak. Just do your job. Don't worry about winning or losing; the head coach will do that. That's his responsibility. Your responsibility is the performance of the players you coach.

Don from Tomball, TX

Correct me if I'm wrong, but in the olden days of Travis Williams, Billy "White Shoes" Johnson and Mercury Morris, didn't the opposing team kick off from the 40-yard line?

The kickoff restraining line was moved from the 40 to the 35-yard line in 1974, the same year a sudden death overtime period was employed for regular-season games. Williams and Morris played under the old kickoff rules, but '74 was Johnson's rookie season and it was no coincidence that his success and the move to the 40 occurred simultaneously. Billy "White Shoes" was one of the symbols of the impact of the rules changes of '74.

Tou from Fresno, CA

Can you explain what a compensatory draft pick and a franchise tag are?

A compensatory draft pick is what you get when you've been judged to have sustained a net loss in free agency. The franchise tag is what you use to retain the rights to a player whose contract is about to expire. That player must be paid at the average of the top five salaries in the league at his position. The franchise tag is something you might use to retain a player such as Jermichael Finley, who is in the final year of his contract.

Matthew from Blue Bell, PA

What is the reason behind all of the league's new player-safety rules and their enforcement? The rules are supposedly for the players, but the players seem to hate them. Could the league be watering down the game because it is simultaneously taking on more injury costs for retired players?

Injuries are costly, period. Nobody wants a $10 million salary on the injured reserve list so, sure, costs are a big part of this safety movement. I'd like to think there's some genuine goodwill in it, too. The issue is, of course, at what cost to the game's integrity? That's the one we have to watch. Let's give it a chance. What bothers me is the notion that players only get injured playing pro football. What about all of the football they played to get to the NFL? I think the NFL is being forced to accept an unfair share of the liability for injuries that are cumulative in nature. Why isn't the whole concussion thing a big deal in college football?

Dean from Waukesha, WI

I very much enjoyed your comments on the preseason and what it means to young players trying to make the team, and also enjoyed hearing that over the years some of those players have shared with you their desperation to make the team. Do you agree that many fans are either unaware of just how fine the line is between being cut and being a well-paid, highly respected athlete? Players like Howard Green and Erik Walden come to mind as players who had the good fortune to be on the right side of that fine line, but other borderline players from last year will never be heard from again. Are there any players that you're particularly rooting for this year?

I'm an old softie when it comes to the plight of the undrafted free agent and the marginal veteran trying to get another paycheck. I love them. I love their love of the game, their dream and their desperation. In my mind, they are the very spirit of training camp and I worry that these condensed training camps will lessen their chance of realizing their dream. In the meantime, I'm going to do everything I can to tell their story; I root for all of them. Why am I so sensitive to them? I think it goes back to something I witnessed a long time ago. I was walking back from the cafeteria to the dorm with a couple of coaches when we came upon a player one of the coaches had identified as a player that had been cut a week earlier. In those days, roster sizes were unlimited and players could get "lost" in camp. The coach stopped the player and asked him why he was still there, and the player said, "I have nowhere to go." College football had housed him, fed him, clothed him, transported him, told him where to be and when to be there, but now he had reached the end of the line. Think about it.

William from Cedar Rapids, IA

What are NFL scouts looking for in signing potential undrafted free agents?

They're looking for players of talent that got lost in the system. Maybe they got lost in the scheme or struggled academically. Maybe there were personal issues or a clash with a coach. Maybe the kid just needed to grow up. Pro football is the end of the line. This is their last chance and sometimes the light will go on. Find the kids with talent to play the game and give them a chance. That's the whole idea, in my opinion, of signing undrafted free agents.

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