New rule could extend careers of aging kickers

Perhaps there will be more places in the NFL for aging kickers with the rule change this week to move kickoffs from the 30- to the 35-yard line.

That’s what Ryan Longwell, 36, is hoping for anyway. He will be a free agent when the labor battle is finally resolved and isn’t sure if he will return to the Minnesota Vikings. He’s made 43 of 46 field goals over the last two seasons, according to Judd Zulgad of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. But he’s hit only eight touchbacks in that same period. The Vikings looked like they would go with a kickoff specialist last season before cutting Rhys Lloyd.

“Obviously, I was pretty excited when I heard about it," Longwell said. “I think John Kasay actually put it best. He’s been trying to get to age 22 again all these years but he can’t, so moving it up 5 yards certainly kind of does that for you. All of a sudden the goal line is in reach to open up some strategy stuff that you can pad it in the end zone, you can kick it in the corner with some higher hang time and stuff the team down there. I was certainly excited about it. The way my career has gone, I’ve been blessed to play this long. I would think that this could give me some more years at the end of this.”

Longwell has had the benefit of playing all of his home games indoors (all the ones not moved because of the Metrodome roof) and the controlled climate helps specialists.

“We’ve been directional kicking, so it’s a little misleading with where it’s going to the corners," he said. "I always felt that my normal ball I could get to the 1- or 2-yard line, when you’re swinging away down the middle and having decent hang time. When you move it up 5 yards, naturally you train a little different in the offseason to be able to hit the quote-unquote home run ball. It’s within range now. ... I’ve talked to a bunch of older kickers around the league in the last couple of days and we’re all kind of excited about it because naturally it helps us all.”

Longwell also wonders aloud if this will make teams less likely to consider kickoff specialists in the future because more kickers will be able to bang the ball into the end zone on a consistent basis. Of course Longwell is going to look at it that way.

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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

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