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What does rule change mean for specialists?


Rich from Whitewater, WI

Vic, in 2012, Nike will take over for Reebok as the NFL's uniform and apparel designer and, as evidenced in college football, Nike isn't afraid to make some pretty unique uniforms. Personally, I think subtle changes to the uniforms would be in the best interest and a few alternate uniforms here and there would be really slick. What are your thoughts? Do you think the "Pro Combat" uniforms could be a hit in the NFL?

Vic: I'm a traditionalist. When I see Michigan, I wanna know it's Michigan, and the helmet tells me it is. When I see Penn State, I wanna know it's Penn State, and the "sheets" tell me it is. Alabama, USC, Texas, Oklahoma, etc.; these are some of the teams that you identify by their uniforms. The NFL has those teams, too. They are the Packers, the Bears, the Browns, the Steelers, etc. Their uniform is their identity and, in my opinion, changing your identity is the equivalent of going into the witness protection program. Some teams have no identity so, for them, it's OK. For the heritage teams, I'm OK with a throwback uniform or a "third uniform" for a game or two, but I don't want the heritage teams to become an Oregon. I don't want us to lose the traditional look of the heritage teams. I want these Packers to wear the same uniforms Coach Lombardi's Packers wore. They connect the generations.

Leo from Atlanta, GA

What does moving the kickoff line mean for special teams guys without the ball, such as tacklers and kickoff specialists?

Vic: It means they've been given a five-yard advantage over previous seasons. It means they should be better than ever. It should mean there will be fewer returns, more touchbacks, a decrease in average starting position for the offense, fewer returns of significance and, here's the big one, fewer opportunities for the Devin Hesters of the world to impact the game. I know Hester hasn't been the Bears' chief kickoff-return man the past few years, but he got his job back returning kickoffs last season and immediately ripped off two long returns, and if I'm in the same division with Hester, you bet I'm gonna vote for this rule change. I'd even campaign for it.

Brian from Redondo Beach, CA

When a team reaches the opponent's one-yard line, why is it they go into a bunch formation instead of spreading the defense?

Vic: They want to prevent penetration. By doing that, you reduce the risk of a fumble and the potential for being tackled for a loss. By and large, it's a safety measure. You're walling off the defense and charging your offensive line with the task of snowplowing the defense. Fans think in terms of opening the field and creating movement. Coaches think in terms of eliminating risk.

Jeff from Fayetteville, NC

Isn't the Heisman Trophy in recognition of the best college football player? If that is so, why is Cam Newton not projected to be the first quarterback picked in the draft?

Vic: The Heisman Trophy is awarded for what a player did. A player is selected first overall in the NFL draft based on what it's believed he'll do. One is not necessarily indicative of the other. It's a crystal ball business.

Jacob from Eagle Rock, VA

Do you think the Packers could be the next NFL dynasty? Also, do you think Aaron Rodgers will go down as one of the best quarterbacks of all time?

Vic: That's the plan. We'll have the privilege and pleasure of watching the pursuit of each.

Stephen from Jacksonville, FL

Whatever happened to the art of coffin-corner punting? Nowadays, most teams just punt the ball as high as they can and have their guys run down the field and try to down it. Which punt-coverage method do you think is more effective at pinning the opposing team close to their own end zone?

Vic: Accomplished gunners are what happened to coffin-corner punting. Specialization is what happened. Who needs to rely on the bounce of the ball when you've got two gunners flying down the field under the ball? I covered two great, and I do mean great, special teams players last year: Montell Owens and Kassim Osgood. They're probably the best special teams players I've ever covered, from a kick-coverage standpoint. They flat won a couple of games on special teams. The simple fact of the matter is this: The more you focus your energy on something, the better you'll be at it. When you draft for special teams players and sign special teams players in free agency, as the Jaguars did with Osgood, you're going to be good on special teams. The question now, as a result of the five-yard change of the free-kick line, is this: How much attention do teams want to focus on acquiring special teams players for a phase of the game that, in my opinion, has had its impact somewhat reduced? I'm not saying special teams have all of a sudden become unimportant; I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying the impact of the Hesters and Osgoods and Owens' of the NFL may have been lessened. We'll see. Maybe I'm wrong.

Daniel from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

I read the comment Mr. Thomas posted about him playing Madden, and I do the same. I play Madden like a real game, and it's easy to beat the youngsters because I know they gonna go deep almost every play. I establish the run and the short passes, protect the ball, and then I run down the clock and they hate it. I like your blog a lot; now I visit every day. Fortunately, now there is a Packer bar in my town, so this is the first year I've been able to watch every game. Often, I am the only Mexican guy in the whole bar, but I love being unique since in my country the Pack is not really that popular.

Vic: Maybe you could start a movement to make the Packers "Mexico's Team." I wonder how "America's Team" would like that.

Luke from Muskego, WI

I think, clearly, the most important possession in a football game is the first one after halftime. That is why deferring is always an excellent move. There is only 30 minutes of football left to play and if you are trailing at the half you get a shot to make that up right away and if you are winning you get a chance to extend your lead and, perhaps, put the other team away.

Vic: What if you don't win the coin toss? What if the other team wins the coin toss and they defer and elect to take the ball to start the second half? In the old system, you would likely be getting the ball to start the second half, if you had lost the coin toss. You see, all this rule has done is turn winning into losing and losing into winning. What's the difference? A coin only has two sides to it.

John from Austin, TX

In the past you have said the great head coaches always had a great quarterback (Noll had Bradshaw, Walsh had Montana). How impressed are you with what Gibbs accomplished without that great QB?

Vic: Halas had Luckman, Brown had Graham, Shula had Griese and Marino, Ewbank had Unitas and Namath, Lombardi had Starr, and on and on. Yes, great coaches and great quarterbacks tend to go hand in hand. Joe Gibbs is the exception. He won Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks, none of whom are in the Hall of Fame: Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien. It is Gibbs' claim to fame; it makes him special. I think it's important to note Gibbs won those Super Bowls during a decade in which the NFC was dominant. He had to beat Bill Walsh's 49ers and Bill Parcells' Giants to get to the Super Bowl. Gibbs is a magnificent coach. I wish he hadn't come out of retirement. That stuff rarely works.

Lora from DePere, WI

Thanks for putting this column up every day. It helps ease the Packers withdrawal. You've been writing mainly for two AFC teams for most of your career. Are you excited to be writing for an NFC team now? Will it change your life much, or do you still focus on all NFL teams?

Vic: It won't change anything, being in a different conference. There's so much movement of players and coaches within the league today that one conference is the same as the other. This is the third team I will have covered on which Dom Capers was on the coaching staff, and I covered Kevin Greene and Darren Perry as players in Pittsburgh. Once upon a time, early in my career, the conference identity thing was much bigger. That was on the heels of the NFL-AFL merger, when loyalties were still strong. The terms "NFC guy" and "AFC guy" were used quite often. I never wanted to be an "AFC guy" because I had grown up following the NFL and clearly favored it over the AFL in the years prior to the merger but, in time, I came to realize that I was an "AFC guy" because I covered an "AFC team." It's funny how little things like that define you. For example, as I'm writing this answer, I'm looking at a clock on my desk that bears the inscription, "AFC Championship Game, Jan. 23, 2000." I have pens with AFC this and AFC that on them, and notebook binders with the same. They are the games you cover and we collect their bobbles and beads. Well, now I'm gonna trade red lettering for blue lettering. It's kind of cool.

Mo from Mountain Top, PA

"I wanna make sure I have a kicker that can thump it into the end zone." I agree, but given that it's now easier to reach the end zone, does the new rule obviate the need for kickoff specialists?

Vic: You'll still need them to cover punts, but if you got a kicker that can really obviate that ball, you ain't gonna need no gunners covering kickoffs.

Ryan from Jacksonville, FL

Those golf clubs probably haven't made it out of the garage, have they?

Vic: I never put my golf clubs in the garage; not since I had a set of 1-SW Ping Eye 2s, Founders Club driver, McGregor Tourney persimmon three-wood, Ping B-60 putter and Founders Club staff bag stuffed with Titleist balls stolen out of my garage in Jacksonville Beach in 1998. I cried for days. It did result in meeting my wife, however, so I have that going for me, which is nice. My clubs never leave the trunk of my car now, and that's a good thing, too, because I needed them in the worst way on Wednesday morning when I went to my car at six o'clock in the morning, two days after it had migrated from Florida to Wisconsin. I quickly discovered that I didn't have an ice-scraper. Necessity is, in fact, the mother of invention and I found the cavity-back model putter in the trunk of my car to be the best ice-scraper I have ever used. Its weight, long handle and cushioned grip allowed it to perform as though it was invented especially for this moment; maybe it was. Who needs an ice-scraper when you have a putter in your trunk? It's about time that thing got some use.

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