The top veteran Demon players will begin practice at 9:40 a.m. Friday while a group primarily comprised of 27 newcomers will go onto the Turpin Stadium turf at 4:40 Friday afternoon.
The same practice times are set for Saturday, Monday and Tuesday before the team unites 95 strong for the first time on the field next Wednesday morning before the annual Fall Sports Media Day luncheon at 1.
By then, NSU will have begun installation of special teams schemes, and there already will have been ample discussion of the revamped rules. Included: receiving teams can fair catch an onside kick bounced high in the air off the kicking tee; teams cannot line up with two kickers approaching the ball; kickoffs move up five yards to the defensive 35, with the kickoff team unable to line up any more than the 30, and touchbacks come out five more yards, to the offense’s 25.
“Regardless whether it’s good or bad, these are now the rules. We have to play by them,” said Farrell. “They’re in a way experimental at all levels of college football. On a 1-10 scale of how radical it is, I’d say these changes are about a 6 or maybe even a 7.
“Moving the kickoffs up to the 35 is a smart move. You’ll still get a lot of returns, but it will cut down collisions to some degree.
Keeping the kick cover team within five yards of the tee is interesting. There will be some opportunities for movement and different formations.
“One that’s underrated and probably not as talked about, but will really change the approach, is the onside kick rule. It’s a whole new ballgame. (Senior kicker) John Shaughnessy was great at the one-hopper, and they’ve made that difficult now. We’ll have to find ways to adjust, and people will explore some different ideas,” said Farrell. “We’re all eyes and ears to see how it evolves. We have a couple cards up our sleeves that could be interesting and people need to keep their eyes open on every kickoff.”
“We have a great kickoff returner (senior Phillip Harvey, on the verge of breaking Dennis Smith’s NSU career yardage record of 1,642), and I like anything that encourages the return game. We have a lot of speed, a lot of experienced special teams players back, really good specialists. We have a head coach (Bradley Dale Peveto) who puts a lot of emphasis on special teams and that filters down to the guys who have to execute on plays that are most likely to change the game,” he said.
Another major rule for every play requires players who lose helmets during action to halt involvement in the play immediately, with a 15-yard penalty if they don’t. Anyone engaging a helmet-less player will draw a 15-yarder.
A ballcarrier losing the helmet halts the play immediately.
In Southland Conference games last year, almost 300 helmets were dislodged in action, supervisor of officials Byron Boston reported.
“Safety considerations are the root of all these changes and we all understand and want that,” said Peveto. “It’s going to be tough for players who lose helmets to overcome their instincts and competitiveness and stop immediately. It’s going to be tough for the other players to realize those guys are now basically like trees, and you can’t run into them or move them out of the way, and you have to go around. Your team can’t afford 15-yard penalties, whatever the reason, so being disciplined and not making mistakes on those plays is going to be even more of a pivotal factor.”