Saints coach Sean Payton joined PFT Live on Tuesday for a candid discussion that touched on several topics. Given all the attention that has been paid to the shifting of the kickoff point from the 30 to the 35, I had to ask Coach Payton for his take.
“I think the challenge the league had this offseason was, they had all this information and when you get this information, 3-to-1 or more likely to be injured on the kickoff, whether you’re a returner or cover guy,” Payton said. “In other words, statistically there would be no one that would argue that. Then you have to be able to take steps, so that 10 years down the road when someone is asking you, hey at this time when you knew it was such a dangerous play and you continued on with the kicks from the 30 and now you have someone who is seriously injured.”
Payton realizes, as do many other coaches, that there will still be plenty of kickoff returns.
“[W]e are going to have inclement weather, we are going to have kicks that don’t go as far as they are suppose to and we are going to have return teams that take it out from five [yards] deep,” Payton said. “Overall numbers I think will be down and certainly effects the teams who have those elite returners. But I do think that it was very simple in its beginning, and that was the information was too strong. I think the league felt they had to do something to so show that they recognized it’s a tough play without getting rid of it.”
So what about the possibility of getting rid of it?
“Well, that’s a great question, because the next question you would ask as attorney, well, if it’s 3-to-1 the most difficult play in sports, you are still potentially kicking off and returning it right?” Payton said. “So I think the traditionalist in all of us want to see that as the beginning of the play. I mean for anything else, it represents what is the start of a game. So how can we slow down the momentum? How can we make it safer? And so that has been the challenge.
“Sitting in on John Madden’s coaches committee, and discussing this topic, this is a tough one, in regards to trying to reduce collision speed. There are a number of things you can do offensively and defensively, but when it comes to kicking that ball and these guys are running down the field a pretty good rate of speed, even if they have a five-yard start as opposed to last year the 10-yard start. I wouldn’t be surprised, Mike, if down the road that’s where it was headed. Unless we come up with some good answers. And that’s the trick.”
The league needs to come up with some good answers, because football isn’t football without a kickoff. Indeed, the Saints probably wouldn’t have won Super Bowl XLIV without the opportunity to pull off a surprise onside kick at the start of the second half of the eventual victory over the Colts.