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Pete Carroll: Seahawks will be “very aggressive” on kickoff returns

With John Harbaugh concerned about injuries and Andy Reid asking, “Where does it stop?” after the recent kickoff adjustment, Mike Florio and Chris Simms outline what other changes could be made in the future.

The latest change to the kickoff rule creates an incentive to make a fair catch of kickoffs fielded between the goal line and the 25. But the fair catch remains optional. Teams can still choose to execute a return.

It sounds as if the Seahawks will.

“We’re going to compete with it,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll told reporters on Thursday. “We’re going to use it to our advantage. We’re pretty good in those areas. We like to think we’re a good return team and we can make things happen. It’ll depend. I think you’ll see an effect during the course of the season as the weather changes and stuff like that. I don’t think it’s going to be that dramatic a change. I think teams are going to want to compete and want to bring the ball out. That’s really all it is, if you’re going to take it to the 25 or not. We’ll compete with it, and see how we look, and see if our core group can continue to give us good work like we’ve always counted on. I’m not thinking we’re taking a knee on everything now. We’re going to be very aggressive about it.”

Carroll also made it clear he was not in favor of the new rule.

“I didn’t like the change,” Carroll said. “Worrying about the game a little bit, but the other side of it is worrying about the rest of it too. There’s some numbers that maybe we can change and help some people not be injured. It’s really hard to not look in that direction and support it. We’ve got to support our guys and take care of them. That’s the way we voted. But I was battling. We worked really hard at it. I spent a lot of time on the phone with the guys at the league and with our guys in getting our minds set on how to do it and how we take advantage of it, one way or the other and all of that, and make the most of it. But it’ll be all right. You won’t even know. You won’t even notice there’s a difference.”

The league obviously hopes there’s a difference. The league wants to have fewer returns, as it considers more fundamental changes to the kickoff. Some continue to be concerned that the play could eventually be scrapped.

“That’s part of the concern, like that part of the game,” Carroll said. “We have to make it safe is what we have to do. That’s really what we have to do. We don’t have to change the rules and stop doing it. We need to make it safer. That has really been the focus, and I think that will continue to be the focus as we see how this year turns out.”

The problem is that, if the new rule reduces concussions, the powers-that-be will want to keep it in place. If it doesn’t, more changes will be needed.

The lingering challenge continues to be identifying meaningful permanent changes that will make the play safer, allowing more kickoff returns.

Until then, everyone needs to be prepared for the unintended consequences. When the touchback point moved to the 25, teams started deliberately kicking the ball short of the end zone and forcing returns. Now, teams will likely use squib kicks that can’t be fair caught.

Carroll expects plenty teams to do just that, possibly including his own.

“I think we’ll check it out,” Carroll said of his own kickoff unit. “Everybody will be checking that out to see how effective ... There’s such an uncertainty about the squib kick. If guys knock that thing down early, they get it early. You get it ricocheted back at you too, so it isn’t obvious that that’s going to be the difference. But the special teams coaches went right to that thinking, ‘This is one of the modes that we’ll go to.’ We’ll see. There’s not good definitive numbers on the squib kicks right now, but there will be. I think we’ll get them.”

Indeed they will. The special-teams coaches who opposed the latest change will embrace it, if only to show the league that the latest change shouldn’t have been made.

So get ready. For teams not fair catching normal kicks. For teams trying squib kicks and other strategies for not conceding first and 10 at the 25.

For now, there’s plenty of uncertainty. In some ways, it will make the next season a little more intriguing -- especially if special-teams coaches are willing to experiment with other strategies, simply to prove that the latest change shouldn’t have been made.