ALAMEDA (CBS / AP) — Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski is pretty confident he’ll be able to put the ball through the back of the end zone almost every opportunity he gets now that the NFL has moved the kickoff line up five yards.
The league’s runner-up in touchbacks in 2010 behind Baltimore’s Billy Cundiff, Janikowski doesn’t think the rule change will lead to a dramatic dip in returns, however. That’s something that’s been a concern for players, coaches and fans since the move was announced in March.
Janikowski landed five of his eight kickoffs for touchbacks in the preseason, including one that split the uprights in Oakland’s exhibition opener against Arizona.
“Yeah, but that was off the tee,” Janikowski said. “I hit the sweet spot. If I hit the sweet spot every time it should go 10 yards deep, no problem. It’s going to be a good percentage.”
Janikowski already was considered one of the league’s strongest kickers before the rule change. His 29 touchbacks last season were a career best, though Oakland as a team ranked in the middle of the pack for opponents’ return average.
Moving the ball up five yards will increase touchbacks around the NFL but Janikowski believes it adds a new strategy to kickoffs. Teams with stronger kickers can now take returners out of the mix entirely by going for a touchback every time. They can also attempt a high, shorter kick to encourage a player to bring the ball out of the end zone or try to directional kick.
Either way, there won’t be automatic touchbacks every time.
“It depends on the coach and situation,” Janikowski said. “Sometimes you want to kick it as high as you can, just land it two, three (yards) deep so we can maybe tackle inside the 10-yard line. So it depends on what (special teams coach John Fassel) wants to do.”
Jacoby Ford, who had three kickoff returns for touchdowns while splitting time at wide receiver as a rookie last year, isn’t concerned either way. If anything, he sees the new rule benefiting returners as much as kickers.
“I still see people returning the ball. I just look at it as an opportunity to get longer returns, actually,” said Ford, who missed much of the preseason with a broken hand. “Even if it is deep, those guys (defenders) don’t have that full head of steam that they usually would before, so the risk of bringing it out is a lot easier.”
Owners cited player safety as their chief concern for moving kickoffs from the 30 to the 35 yard line. The change passed with 26 of the 32 teams approving it.
The Raiders were one of the six that voted against it.
Coach Hue Jackson acknowledged the benefit of having Janikowski on the roster but said the new rule will limit opportunities for kick returners like Ford.
“I wish the kickoff rule was different because of Jacoby,” Jackson said. “It is what it is and we’ll make do with it.”
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