SANTA CLARA – David Akers has a lot to say about special teams. He shared the tip of the iceberg today to reporters at his locker.
Q: Beyond your own interest as a kicker, do you think it’s a good rule change (moving kickoffs up five yards)?
AKERS: I really believe time will tell. You’ll calculate the injuries later on at the end of the year. The initial deal was you went from a four-man wedge down to a two. I think it went a four to a three to a two. Then they went into this aspect of moving guys from the 30 to the 35, and then only having a five-yard approach for the takeoff. Last year you were seeing, and I was able to see to Ellis Hobbes really get hit pretty good and luckily enough not to be paralyzed. Because of the lack of the wedge, there were more shots on return guys. So, I understand the philosophy behind it. I think only time’s going to tell. It sounds like they almost want to do away with the kickoff in general. But then how do you do things like onside kicks and boots in the wind – there’s so many different strategies you’re actually taking away from the game. People are like, “Aw, kickers, this or that.” Well, I didn’t invent the position. I’m just trying to make a living from it.
Q: Do you think they’ll ever get rid of kickoffs?
AKERS: I don’t know that. That was definitely one of the things I was hearing that they wanted to do. And I’ve heard at least at the high school and college levels that they wanted to do that for injury’s sake.
Q: How many times in your experience did you notice it was the wedge buster that got more hurt than the return men?
AKERS: Oh absolutely, the guy running down and delivering the shot. We had a guy, Jason Short, in Philly for a couple years. We called him “Full Throttle” because he was off or on, and it was 100 miles an hour. He’d knock himself out or knock the wedge out. That was kind of his goal. We had guys like that. We have one on our team right now with Costanzo. He is a special teams demon. He goes out there and he can make things happen. If he had that rule, I guarantee he would be the guy running down through the wedge and blowing them up. I think once this year’s done, you’ll be able to say, “OK. Is this a calculated risk for us to take all these kickoff changes? Is it worth it? Are guys still getting banged up?”
Q: Excuse my ignorance. You mentioned Ellis Hobbes. What happened to him?
AKERS: Ellis Hobbes, he came back from an injury. He had a neck injury, and I think he had bone fused. He took an initial shot, he spun off and then his head was down and it looked like he got hit just like an accordion. His whole head compounded down, and then he went down to the ground and didn’t feel his arms or his legs. Feeling came back, and I know that was one of the things that they were saying, that returners have been so much more exposed because a two-man wedge really can’t protect, and guys are being able to avoid them, get in, and make the shot. I think that was one of the many that people were talking about last year.
Q: Can you articulate the unique mayhem of a kickoff play?
AKERS: Well, believe it or not, and I was actually talking to a guy on the way in this morning that that you don’t just run down straight. Everybody has a specific goal, whether you’re a ball guy, are you a force guy, which means you keep it inside shoulder. Are you a contain guy playing the twos. Are you safety, fold safety. Every guy has their position. Well, then you play against teams that have certain returners, and how do they run those returns, and then you have to scheme off of that. That’s where the knowledge of the game really comes in, and watching these guys, like a Costanzo. He’s never a guy who really goes down and disrupts it. He likes to play off, so he’s like a second guy. He comes down, the fives get in there. Then the fours, if this guy’s over here he’s going to play off this way. When I was with John Harbaugh, over a five year period we were ranked in the top couple one or two or three special teams. It seemed like once you got a couple core guys that have played together, then they really started playing off each other. They can run twist stunts and all these things running down the field, and that’s where you’re like, “He didn’t stay in his lane.” Well, that’s such a high school myth, as far as, “You opened it up here.” Why did he open it up? What did he see? Was the return going this way, and did he go what’s called “backdoor,” where you take the easy way around? Or should he have two-gap bulled right into the guy – take one side, take the other side depending on what the returner’s doing. There’s a technique to it.