In recent seasons, the NCAA's perpetual motivation in changing some of the kickoff return guidelines – booting the football from the 30-yard-line comes to mind – was to create more special-teams excitement.
On Thursday, the association's decision to eliminate the "wedge block" – shoulder-to-shoulder blocking by three or more players – was safety-driven. Concussion numbers have to come down, and this was one of the ways the NCAA and American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) compromised on.
Indirectly, it might result in more big returns as well.
I asked an NCAA coach about what ultimately the impact of the new rule will have in the return game on kickoffs. His simple response was directed toward the type of personnel that will be employed now.
"Kickoff returns," he said, "will now look more like punt returns."
In other words, gone will be the 6-foot-1, 225-pound bruisers set to create havoc in the middle of a wedge block to get the tough yards, and get the offense the ball immediately. The featured returners will now be the scatback-types who can hit a crease and go the distance.
"There are more athletic people on the field the way it sets up now," said UW running back Johri Fogerson, who would certainly benefit since he's a big-play threat.
The other reporters and myself didn't give it much thought to why the UW had not worked on much kickoff return stuff so far in spring camp. Special teams coach Johnny Nansen said today part of the reason was the team was waiting on the NCAA's decision.
"The other is (we're) finding out what guys … can help us out on special teams," Nansen said. "We're doing drills to make sure who are the guys we can rely on. For me, we have the scheme in place. Now we have to find the personnel."
Last season, half of the UW's six different kickoff-return schemes utilized the wedge block – middle wedge, right-side wedge and left-side wedge. In fact, in the final four games, the Huskies almost exclusively used the wedge block as their primary way to attack up the field.
The others involved trap-blocking.
"What I found out watching film a year ago, we weren't good at any of them," Nansen said. "So we wanted to focus on two returns and let's get good at them, and have our kids know then. Off that, maybe we can build one more or two more (later in the season)."
This season, the UW will use a variety of techniques – two-man wedge blocks (since that's still legal), a few trap-blocks. Most of it will likely come out of good, old-fashioned hat-on-hat blocking schemes.
"It's such an open field … it you have a zone (block), there is so much field, it's hard," said UW linebacker Cort Dennison, who has been on most of the team's special-teams blocking units.
"There should be more man-to-man, and in that big open field, you have to put your big-boy pads on and do everything you can to prevent them from winning."
Other tidbits from Saturday:
• Much of the same report from the M*A*S*H unit: Running back Chris Polk (shoulder), receivers D'Andre Goodwin (hamstring) and Jordan Polk (hamstring), cornerback Desmond Trufant (groin) and offensive tackle Cody Habben (shoulder) did little individual work on the side.
Defensive lineman Everrette Thompson (foot) is out of a walking boot.
Receiver Cody Bruns (head) did return and was available for full contact, as did offensive guard/center Gregory Christine (turf toe).
Safety Greg Walker went down hard early in practice, and needed help off the field. Coach Steve Sarkisian said later he had suffered a hyperextended elbow.
• Former NFL lineman Mark Schlereth was one of the keynote speakers from the UW's two-day coaches clinic. Now an NFL analyst for ESPN, Schlereth talked to the group Saturday morning.
He also was asked to come in and address the team as well.
"(He spoke) to the team about what it means to be a great teammates, and why championship teams are able to accomplish what they've accomplished," Sarkisian said. "Obviously with Mark having three Super Bowl championship rings, he has a vast array and knowledge of what it means to win championships. He's been able to share it with our guys."
• Aside from receiver Jermaine Kearse hauling in a long touchdown pass in the early team period, the defense had the upper hand most of Saturday.
"Our defense settled in and did a nice job of eliminating the big play, and getting after the quarterback," Sarkisian said.
• At the end of practice, offensive tackle Mark Armelin was crawling on his stomach from one end of the field to the other while others in his position group closely monitored the activity.
"When you miss an offensive line meeting," Sarkisian said, "the other offensive linemen don't take very kindly to it."