With the new CBA officially ratified, every special teams unit around the NFL is struggling to play catch up. Darrin Simmons' group of players are no different. With the lockout-shortened offseason, Simmons has to cram a lot of the new changes and verbiage into just a few weeks. With so many new faces on the squad, Simmons is driving home the fundamentals as best and quickly as he can.
League owners voted in March of 2009 to ban wedge blocking during kickoffs. A wedge block was essentially a wall of blockers standing shoulder to shoulder providing a shield for the returner, often causing players to crash into the wall that generated so many injuries that the league grew concerned. For safety reasons, the NFL decided that more than two players within two yards of each other would result in a 15-yard penalty if those players were within the same plane. Determined to go one step further, the league proposed the end of a two-man wedge, which fell on the cutting room floor.
Yet the rule changes that ended up passing with the new CBA makes the challenge for Simmons even more daunting.
New to the league this year is the football's placement at the 35-yard line during kickoffs, increasing five yards from last year. This will likely raise the amount of touchbacks throughout the season season.
Additionally, the kickoff team will only be allowed a running start of five yards, rather than the 10-15 yards to work with in the past.
Yet none of those compare to the difficult challenge of only being allowed one full practice to teach the new rules during game-like conditions. The rest of the sessions that Simmons has to work with are walkthroughs that aren't full speed.
With the exception of some errant snapping from Brad St. Louis and some missed clutch field goals from Shayne Graham, the Special Teams units under Simmons' tutelage had been solid until last year. Though 2010 wasn't a horrible year for the Bengals' special teams unit, Simmons is looking to improve his group and it's proving difficult with all of the new parameters he has to work around.