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Tracy, Miller adjust to new rules

HOUSTON – When the XFL announced its new rules Tuesday, some of the biggest changes involved special teams with innovations intended to encourage more returns and exciting plays.

And, of course, there was the elimination of the traditional kicked extra point.

The two players whose roles most change with these adjustments are the punter and kicker, so now that they’ve had some time to digest the information, what do Dragons punter Brock Miller and kicker Cole Tracy think of the rules?

Well, it’s a new challenge, one they think will force them to adjust their games in ways that will make them better players.   

“The rules in this league are going to be exciting, but it’s pretty different,” said Miller, who has been with the team since minicamp. “They don’t want you to be able to take the returners out of the game, so that’s an uphill battle for Cole and I but, I think it’s going to make us better players and I’m excited for the challenge.”

Tracy added, “It’s definitely different than the traditional NFL football rules, so it will be exciting. As the season progresses, we’ll be more creative, try to figure out what our true strategy will be.”

For Tracy and Miller, the new rules force teams to try and kick the ball inbounds to prevent hefty penalties (for more details on the rules, click the video links embedded below).

Because of the changes, the Dragons are devoting the necessary time in training camp to craft their strategy. In fact, after a short practice Tuesday morning, the team had a second session in the afternoon to focus on special teams.

With the everything being new, there is an element of trial and error, something that will force Tracy and Miller to make adjustments.

“With the kickoff being moved back 5 yards and, basically, you get penalized if you kick it out of the end zone, so it’s kind of going to be a little bit more about placement and coverage than trying to blast it out of the end zone,” Tracy said.

Also new for Tracy is the elimination of the extra point.

“They want as many plays as possible,” he said. “It just puts more of an emphasis on my job with the field goals. You might not have as many opportunities, because you’re not going out and kicking as many PATs, so every kick is going to be even more important.

“You’ve got to go perform at you highest level.”

For Miller, punting has always followed a very specific metric for success. In the XFL, that changes.

“It’s pretty much flipped on its head as far as what I tried to do in college and the NFL,” Miller said. “It’s kind of just turned upside down. In the NFL, some of best punters can really paint the sidelines with the ball and have a great net punt average, just eliminating returns.”

The new rules keep gunners from sprinting downfield when the ball is snapped on punts. Now, players must wait until the ball is punted before running.

“They’ve got to wait on my foot,” Miller said. “So unless you can hang the ball six, seven seconds in the air, it’s imperative to be consistently placing the ball directionally, but not too much, because you don’t want the ball to sail on you and go out of bounds.”

For Miller, his focus is on ball placement.  

“Just consistency and repeatability of placing the ball where you want it to go, so our cover guys know where it’s going to be and can eliminate long returns,” he said.

Both players understand what they face with the rule changes. But they are looking forward to the challenge.  

“This is making it a lot harder task for us to be successful, have good numbers and help our team have a good chance to win, but you’ve got to be excited for the challenge,” Miller said. “We’ve got a great coach in (Steve) Hagen, so we’re trusting him and his game plan moving forward.”