Huff, Smallwood hoping to get a chance to make returns count
PHILADELPHIA >> We all know the NFL kickoff is on death row.
It’s a matter of time before this one-year trial with touchbacks brought out to the 25-yard line turns into another year, only at the 30-yard line, and so on, until some rocket scientist steps up at the league meetings and says, “here, here, we might as well just get rid of the kickoff.”
Player safety supposedly is the issue. League suits insist there’s a greater chance of injuries, including concussions, with 22 bodies running full speed at each other. (They should know. That’s what their meeting room must look like, only with 10 more crazy people, after they unanimously vote to adjourn their no-fun meetings.)
If that’s the motivation the NFL ought to outlaw the blindside blitz, hits to the back and tackling to the ground. That may be coming, people.
Personally, the kickoff doesn’t do a lot for me on a league-wide basis basically because so many teams don’t give a flyingyou-know-what about it. They don’t think it’s important. They don’t devote the proper resources to kickoff returners, cover guys or coaches who teach the proper techniques. They want the touchback. It’s a money saver.
When the Eagles kick off, and more importantly when they return a kickoff, the artistry, the skill and the adrenaline during the event is so off the charts you will absolutely curse yourself for being one of the chumps who missed it to grab some chow or be first to the head.
What Wendell Smallwood and Josh Huff have done in coach Dave Fipp’s schemes taking kickoffs to the house in consecutive weeks is mind blowing considering their craft is approaching extinction.
Two weeks ago Smallwood rolled 86 yards for a score moments after it looked like the Eagles would be routed by the Redskins. They still lost, but in so doing at least put a temporary stop to that not safe for work Hail to the Redskins song.
Last week Huff exploded 98 yards to put Sam Bradford and the previously unbeaten Vikings in the rearview mirror for good. He also turned Vikings kicker Blair Walsh into an instructional video of how not to man-up when you have the lead and an opponent is coming straight at you.
It was the first time the Eagles returned kickoffs for touchdowns in back-toback games. And this week the duo would like nothing better than to make it three games in a row.
The Eagles are the only NFL team to score on the kickoff return this season. They’re averaging a league-best 38.7 yards on kickoff returns. Huff is leading the NFL with an average of 38.0 yards per return among players with five or more chances.
In a system where it’s a lot safer taking the ball at the 25, Smallwood is averaging 46.3 yards on three kickoff returns.
“We were getting a lot of backlash at the beginning of the season for us not running balls out,” Huff said. “But at the end of the day you’ve got to be realistic. It’s like baseball. You don’t want to swing at every pitch they throw. When you do swing you hope that you connect. That’s what we’ve done so far this year. We’ve been patient and we’ve been able to work on things like that. Once we’ve gotten our shot we’ve made the most of those opportunities.”
Maybe it’s us but we don’t think the Cowboys and kicker Dan Bailey have the stones to kickoff to the Eagles Sunday night at AT&T Stadium. The only way the Cowboys would is if they had a double-digit lead with like 2 seconds to go and Jerry Jones ordered it.
“I think how good our kickoff return is, it kind of a put a target on our back,” Smallwood said. “I think their special teams coach (Rich Bisaccia) is probably dialing that in this week. They’ll probably kick a lot of touchbacks this week. They have a good kicker. We just have to be ready if our chance comes and not force anything or run anything out crazy.
It can happen. I hope they do kick it to us.”
We won’t know until game time, of course. As Huff said, patience is a virtue the way the rules are now. The last thing a responsible kickoff returner wants to do is make the wrong decision, get pummeled inside the 25 and in doing so, give a crowd of 80,000 a reason to think their team can win.
“Bailey, he’s a stronglegged kicker,” Huff said. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve played them three times. I haven’t returned a kick in Dallas’ stadium since I’ve been here. So if you want to hang one up there for one of us to get it I would gladly welcome them to do so, but if not that’s just a respect factor. And I can’t do anything about that.”
Huff, Smallwood and Fipp can’t do anything about the rules, either. The NFL generally does whatever it wants, whenever it wants under the guise of whatever it takes to protect the shield. How’s that working out in terms of dropping popularity, guys?
If the NFL gets rid of the kickoff, it would be a tragedy. It would be rewarding the teams that don’t want to adapt.
“I understand player safety and all that,” Huff said. “I totally understand that. But at the same time you’re taking fun away from the game. It’s already the no-fun league primarily because of the celebrations. That’s what fans want to see, is celebrations. And they cut a lot of that away. And that’s part of the excitement. And when you take that away and then you’re working to take away the kickoff? In the history of the NFL we’ve had great returners. Man, to take that away from a team or to take that away from the game it will be definitely be devastating.”
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Josh Huff, right, celebrates his touchdown with teammate Jordan Matthews earlier this season.