Devin Hester, perhaps the best return man in NFL history, is on record as being against the new kickoff rule, which will see touchbacks brought out to the 25-yard line rather than the traditional 20. The New York Giants also have one of the best kick returners in the league in Dwayne Harris, and Harris is thrilled by the change.
"I love it. I think it’s a good rule, it’s going to give me more chances to return the ball," Harris said after a recent OTA. "A lot of people are going to try to keep the ball out of the end zone, gonna try to keep it in the field of play.”
Harris averaged 28.7 yards per return last season, third in the league. If he could do that from the goal line or on kicks a yard or two deep in the end zone, the Giants would gain field position exceeding the 25. Over the course of his five-year career, Harris has averaged 27 yards per return.
Speaking of those kicks that are say, a yard deep in the end zone, there is a belief that the new rule will cause kickoff returners to kneel with those rather than taking the ball out from as far as seven yards deep, as has been customary in recent seasons.
What will Harris do on those kickoffs that barely make it into the end zone?
“I’m bringing it out. He [special teams coordinator Tom Quinn] might not like me bringing it out, but I’m bringing it out," Harris said with a laugh.
Harris then expanded on that, saying there are times when that will be appropriate and times when it won't.
“We [Harris and Quinn] have a great understanding. He knows what kind of player I am, I know what kind of coach he is" Harris said. "When situations call for me to bring it out I’ll bring it out. When situations call for me to take a knee and keep it in and us get to the 25-yard line I’ll definitely leave it in. That’s just being a smart returner, a smart player. Just knowing your situational football.”
The NFL may have changed the touchback rule with the idea of creating even fewer returns, thus increasing safety. If returners like Harris are right, though, what the league may have done is put the kick return back in the game. We'll see how it plays out.