Some quick thoughts as I prepare to brave the heat and/or rain for the Rams' last open practice of the season, at 12:30 today.
Mardy Gilyard has been getting every chance to prove he belongs on this team, but his primary showcase is the now-outmoded kickoff return.
Nearly 75% of kickoffs have landed in the end zone since the NFL moved kickers back up to the 35 yard line. Rob Bironas drove Gilyard back eight or nine yards deep on each of five first-half kickoffs. That extra distance made only one of Gilyard's returns a "winner," as he was routinely stopped at the 16 or 17 yard line. A year ago, those are serviceable 21- or 22-yard returns. Now they put the offense at a slight disadvantage.
But what can Gilyard do? He has to showcase himself to make the team, and he isn't going to do that by taking touchbacks. Indeed, he nearly broke one and took it to the house, but for a shoelace tackle at the 25 by the Titans' Jordan Babineaux.
How important is the role of kickoff returner in this new-look NFL, though? If 75% of the time the smart play is to take the touchback, anyone with a decent pair of hands could do that. And Ravens coach John Harbaugh suggests that teams may flout Roger Goodell's safety-conscious rule and game the new system to produce "coffin corner" kickoffs.
"When you're coming from the 35-yard line, it's scary how fast you can be on top of that returner. Teams will definitely try to pop it up to see if they can go smash the returner inside the 15 or 10."
This makes the 53rd man on the roster little more than a designated tackling dummy. Good luck, Mardy.