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Inside the NFL: PAT changes will set new strategies afoot

Leave it to the NFL to turn what once was the most routine and perhaps boring play in the game into something that not only figures to generate some drama this fall but that also has become one of the hotter offseason topics.

No longer does the extra-point attempt qualify as the cue for a bathroom break or beverage refill. It’s now a more challenging kick, from 32 to 33 yards as opposed to 19 to 20 yards, and if it’s blocked or the placement is mishandled and the ball becomes free, it could be returned for two points.

That, in turn, could encourage teams to opt for an even more exciting play: the two-point conversion, which would still be attempted from the 2-yard line, with turnovers also eligible for a two-point return.

But when sifting through a cross-section of reaction of kickers, special-teams coaches and head coaches to the owners’ implementing the new rule at their meeting last week, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

• The value of the lowest-paid position in the game could very well increase. It’s easy to make the argument that the primary goal of the rule change was to make kickers less relevant because of an expected surge in two-point conversion attempts. But I wouldn’t be so quick to assume that coaches will be less inclined to call for the one-point kick, because even with the extended distance, it still amounts to a chip-shot field goal.

Kickers are expected to make those, just as they were expected to make the extra points snapped 13 yards closer. Nevertheless, it stands to reason that reliability will be at an even greater premium.

Consider this take that Chargers kicker Nick Novak gave U-T San Diego: “There could be games where I may not get any work,” because the Chargers are “just lighting up the scoreboard and scoring touchdowns, which is a good thing. Now, I have the privilege of kicking 33-yard field goals, maybe four or five a game. I call them field goals because they’re from 33 yards. My workload is going to go up. It’s exciting to showcase what I can do. I think it increases the value of a kicker, too.”

• Teams, such as the Buffalo Bills, in climates where the weather can wreak havoc on the kicking game, aren’t necessarily at the disadvantage that many initially thought. First of all, the conditions for them would be equally unfavorable for the opposition. And that would apply to a two-point try as well.

“Let’s say you’re in Buffalo and there’s a blizzard going on,” Oakland Raiders special teams coach Brad Seely told SiriusXM NFL Radio. “That’s going to maybe change your thinking. The other part of that is, you still have to score from the 2 in a blizzard.”

• Special-teams coaches are going to have to re-teach members of their PAT unit who didn’t previously worry about a blocked kick or mishandled placement becoming two points.

“We always have it in there on a PAT in a ‘fire’ situation, ‘Throw it up. Nothing bad is going to happen, just let it go,’” Seely said. “Now, you’ve got to treat those PATs like field goals. You’ve got to make good decisions if you’re the holder or the kicker with the ball. You can’t do a Garo Yepremian, and throw it up in the air,” because “now it could easily be two points.”

• Expect far greater collisions at the line of scrimmage resulting from the longer kicks, which is a clear contradiction to the NFL mantra of doing all it can to help make the game safer for players.

“Being on field goal protection is probably the worst job in football; I know that and all my linemen know that,” Bills kicker Dan Carpenter told SiriusXM NFL Radio. “Well, now they just went from a play that there weren’t too many collisions to a play now where not only is the defense coming to take that one point off, but also to add a chance to add two more to their score.”

A larger part of each team’s practice may now be devoted to special-teams work in general and the two-point conversion in particular.

“I know one thing,” Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh told the Baltimore Sun, “we’re going to spend more time defending two-point conversions and practicing two-point conversions, because it’s going to be a bigger part of the game.”

Is Tannehill elite?

The Miami Dolphins continue to make strong statements that they believe they have their long-term answer at quarterback in Ryan Tannehill.

The first came early in the offseason with the acquisitions of Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings, and tight end Jordan Cameron. Granted, the Dolphins were filling holes created by the departures of Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson, and tight end Charles Clay – who signed with the Bills – but it could easily be argued that they upgraded their pass-catching corps. That certainly was the case when they made former Louisville standout wide receiver DeVante Parker their first-round draft pick last month.

Finally, the biggest statement of all came when the Dolphins last week signed Tannehill to a long-term contract extension worth $95 million. The guaranteed money in the deal doesn’t reflect an over-the-top commitment, but it’s still fair to say that the team sees Tannehill continuing to grow and develop with his revamped surrounding cast.

Are the Dolphins putting too much faith in him? It seems so, given that Tannehill has not consistently displayed anything that would justify the elite-level pay he is receiving.

However, compared with two other teams in the AFC East, the Bills and the New York Jets, it’s also fair to say Miami has the second-most stable quarterbacking situation after Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

Screen passes

• Speaking of Brady, the decision by Patriots owner Robert Kraft to suddenly slam the breaks on his full-throttle pursuit of justice in the NFL’s Deflategate ruling – including the creation of a website that devoted nearly 20,000 words to discredit the findings of Ted Wells’ investigation into the matter – raises reasonable speculation on a couple of counts. One, Kraft finally came to the realization that Brady was, in fact, guilty of having a role in the deflating of footballs below league standards for the AFC title game and spared himself and the team any more embarrassment. Two, Kraft sees an opportunity, through Brady’s four-game suspension, to begin the first major steps toward replacing his 38-year-old quarterback by seeing what the team has in second-year man Jimmy Garoppolo.

• Is there really such a thing as “voluntary” offseason workouts in the NFL? Sure, technically speaking, players aren’t obligated to show up at team facilities until mandatory sessions begin. But we received yet another reminder of how little the term voluntary really means last week when Bills running backs coach Anthony Lynn talked about the absence of one of the players in his position group, Bryce Brown, from One Bills Drive to tend to a personal family matter.

Although it wouldn’t be entirely fair to say Lynn was offering no compassion for Brown, the coach did make it clear that Brown was putting himself at a competitive disadvantage by missing out on learning a new offense and getting to better know his position coach.

• Standard orientation programs for NFL rookies address areas such as financial planning, identity theft and staying on the right side of the law. But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took a different approach. Last week they put their rookies through three hours of etiquette training.

The course didn’t merely focus on proper table manners. It dealt with how players should gracefully conduct themselves in social settings, covering topics such as handshakes, body language, networking and social media.

“I walked away from there saying ‘What gentlemen, every single one of them,’” etiquette coach Patricia Rossi, who has worked with multiple NFL and Major League Baseball teams, told the Tampa Bay Times. “You see how sweet they are. These are my favorite. They want to learn.”


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