NORMAN — College football coaching staffs face a philosophical decision how to approach new kickoff rules.
Attempting to minimize injuries, kickoffs have been moved up five yards, from the 30- to 35-yard line.
But if a coach asks their kicker to boom one through the end zone, touchbacks will be brought out to the 25-yard line instead of the 20. Coverage units also are prohibited from taking more than a five-yard running start.
“I think it's a good thing,” said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. “Anything to avoid those huge and major collisions is a positive.”
Stoops likes both sides, giving and taking touchbacks.
“If you don't have a good go at it then take a knee and take it out to the 25,” Stoops said. “It's positive. And it will eliminate some big injuries that happen to everybody.”
OU has had its fair share of injuries on kickoffs.
Defensive end Ronnell Lewis last season suffered a strained knee on kickoff coverage. DeMarco Murray suffered a knee injury on an onside kick.
The new college rules announced last month won't eliminate injuries. But last season the NFL moved kickoffs up five yards, dramatically increasing touchbacks and reducing injuries.
Running backs coach Cale Gundy said OU's staff will discuss all options. Gundy believes many teams will take the trade off and have their defense take the field at the 25-yard line following touchbacks.
But OU punter Tress Way, who has kicked off in previous seasons, believes some kickers, including teammate Michael Hunnicutt, can be effective with a punter-like approach.
“The touchback rule at the 25 now is a big jump,” Way said. “If you hang it up there — and Hunnicutt can hang it up there for 4.0 or 4.1 seconds — I would try to kick it one or two (yards) deep into the end zone with some hang time because we have some freak athletes can run and hit somebody.
“If you kicked it to the 5- or 7-yard line from the 30 it was considered a short kick. You move that up five yards you're to the 1- or 2-yard line. Wind also won't be as big a factor if you're kicking into the wind. Now from the 35, you can still hit it inside the 5.”
Way said the Sooners have watched film from the 2002 and 2003 OU teams when kickoffs were at the 35.
“I think the trajectory of the ball will change a lot,” Way said. “I think you'll see kickers trying to get more hang time to get it to the 5 or the goal line. There are a lot of fast guys on that (coverage) team. If you pin them at the 10- or 15-yard line that would be huge.”
Gundy, though, said it will be a challenge for kickers to master hang time.
“I don't think kickers are good enough in college,” Gundy said. “The NFL is a different deal. They want to hang it up because they're fast enough to get down there and get you them on about the 11- or 12-yard line.
“I'm not the kickoff (coverage) coach but I would think we might take every one of them in the end zone.”
That's part of the decision-making process since touchbacks will come out to the 25-yard line.
“Guys will kick it and we'll cover,” Gundy said. “If it goes through (the end zone) it goes through. We're not going to turn down a great kick. And we stress to all our guys to get down there and make plays, make a tackle inside the 20.”