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On the Airwaves: John Schneider on Kevin Calabro Show: Improvement on Lines Top Priority, and Leon Washington Is Doggone Good

More of this, please.
More of this, please.

John Scheider was on ESPN 710's Kevin Calabro show yesterday and talked on a few points. First and foremost on the minds of all Hawks fans is what position the Hawks will be looking to improve at most in the draft. Schneider's response: (thanks to Brian McIntyre at Mac's Fooball Blog for the transcribing)

Starting any organization, or any football team, I think you have to look at both sides of the line. So I would say offensive and defensive line are priorities for us, no question. We're looking for depth at every position, but I think it starts on both sides of the ball.

This makes sense. That's really all I can say about that. The teams that win have great lines for the most part - or a really really great quarterback. Maybe we can upgrade both of those issues in this draft. It's really no surprise that's how he answered, everyone knows the lines are a weakness (offensive maybe a little more than defensive - but both need to be upgraded), and I look forward to seeing where and with whom they try and improve them.

He went on to talk about the signing of Leon Washington and the subsequent passing of NFL Kickoff Rule changes. The rules, which move the kickoff to the 35 yard line instead of the 30, will theoretically hurt Washington's production at his top skill, kick returns. He was asked if they'd known the rule change were to go into effect if it would have dissuaded him from signing Washington at all, and Schneider responded:

No, not at all. Leon's a, first of all, he's a phenomenal person. He's a great locker room guy, great leader, and he's a pretty doggone good running back, too. So I would think hopefully this year now he's had another year to recover from his injury, hopefully we can get him more involved in the offense.

My reaction? Well, first of all, he's not going to say "Yeah, shoot, that rule really screws Leon, I wish we would've known that, we'd have dropped him." Of course he's going to say what he said. But here's the thing - I believe him. 

(And the Hawks were actually one of the teams to vote for the changes as well, so there's no reason to doubt him)

Washington was effective in the run game when he got his chances, and he's very dynamic out of the backfield on swing passes and screens. He had very good doggone numbers in New York before getting hurt and now that his leg should be fully healed I expect to see good doggone things from him this year. If the running game catches on in the fashion we all hope it will, I expect to see the three headed monster of Lynch, Forsett, and Washington handling the load.

I think he'll still be great on punt returns if they ask him to continue doing that, and I think there will still be chances to return some kicks. Probably not as many, but we'll see. There is a school of thought out there that these new changes will result in more returns. As Frank Tadych of points out:

The off-setting factor involved is that players on kickoff coverage will only be allowed to line up between the 30-35, eliminating the 15-yard run up to kickoffs that had become status-quo. Seahawks special teamer Michael Robinson believes that will make front-line blocking easier and will result in even better field position when kicks are returned. Deeper kicks, in which big-legged kickers essentially out-kick their coverage, could correlate into even longer returns.

Mike Sando put together a piece detailing Robinson's theory as well and in it he said:

The way Robinson sees things, moving kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35 will produce more touchbacks, as anticipated. He also thinks the rule limiting running starts for coverage teams will diminish front-line impacts, leading to longer returns on those plays that fail to produce touchbacks. Robinson expects teams to adjust by using larger players on their coverage teams "because kickoffs will become more power plays, not as finesse" and "smaller guys avoid contact more." 

It remains to be seen, but should be one of the interesting storylines to start the season. For me, I think Leon is a great weapon for the Hawks and hope he gets more touches this upcoming season.