Ryan Succop managed to adjust pretty well last year to the change of the extra point rule, so he figures he will do the same this year with the NFL’s decision to change the touchback rule.
The Tennessee Titans kicker said the rule, which on a one-year experiment will place the ball at the 25-yard line rather than the 20, could have the adverse effect of its intent.
The NFL moved kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35 a few years ago in large part to reduce the number of violent collisions and concussions sustained on kickoffs. It created more touchbacks than returns. Now, Succop believes teams might try to kick higher and shorter kicks, forcing return men to field the ball inside the 5-yard line and let coverage teams try to pin the returner somewhere short of the 25-yard line.
“Time will tell. But I can see where if you have a kicker who has good hang time in the 4.3, 4.4, or 4.5 range, that special teams coach is going to try have and him kick the ball high and short and pin teams, rather than kicking a touchback and allowing a team to start at the 25-yard line,” Succop said. “I’m sure that the people in the league who are behind this rule have researched it and believe that it will lead to more touchbacks or whatever, but time will tell if that happens.”
In addition to being reliable on field goals and extra points, a kicker who can drive the ball deep to create touchbacks or kick directionally to help his coverage teams is a valuable weapon. Succop does not want to see that eliminated or de-emphasized in the game.
“If it got to that point, I certainly think it would be bad for kickers. It is so critical, and a kicker who can have a high percentage of touchbacks is such a weapon for teams. If a team has to go 80 yards every time they touch the ball, they’re not going to score a TD that high a percentage of the time,” Succop said.
But the kickoff doesn’t need to be taken out of the game, he said.
“Ask a lot of fans, and they say kickoff is at noon or at 1. I just don’t know how you can take that away. It’s one of the most exciting plays in football. Watching a kickoff return is a lot of fun,” he said. “There are ways to make it safer, and the more the league is preaching safety, you’re seeing the number of concussions go down.”
Succop said he has come to embrace the new extra point rule that made PAT kicks less automatic. Succop made 29 of 31 extra point tries from the 33-yard line.
“I think it’s a rule I certainly have tried to embrace. I sort of liked it,” he said. “This past year I had more opportunities to get kicks that felt like field goals. A 33-yard extra point felt like a field goal, and from that standpoint, it brought a little more excitement. It’s no longer automatic, so I think that’s good. It puts more of a challenge and focus in it, and that’s a good thing.”
Rule changes or not, the thing the veteran kicker is looking forward to most is getting the 2016 season going with all the new additions new general manager Jon Robinson has brought in.
“It’s all been extremely positive. The off-season program starts on April 18, and I’m really excited to get back. I can’t wait to get back and start working with the guys,” Succop said. “There are a lot of good things in place, and I’m sure that will continue to build. I’m really, really fired up for this season. Titans fans and everyone should be, because I think we’re building something really special here.”