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March 1, 2012

Special challenge

After leading the country in kickoff returns, Purdue expects to be among the nation's best units again in 2012.

But the NCAA made that goal a bit tougher this month.

Kickoffs have been moved five yards closer, to the 35-yard line, and touchbacks were moved out five yards, to the 25. Both rules are designed to encourage touchbacks and potentially limit the amount of injuries on returns.

Those rules likely will limit opportunities, too, for the Boilermakers' and nation's best returner, Raheem Mostert. As a freshman, Mostert moved into the returner spot against Notre Dame and his 33.5 average was No. 1 in the country. His 99-yard touchdown off a return in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl helped boost Purdue's average to finish with the top mark in the country (28.68).

"I really don't like the idea at all," Mostert said of the prospect of fielding the ball in the end zone more often. "If you're a returner, I don't think anybody would like the idea. It's going to be challenging now, the fact that you have to bring it out deeper from the end zone.

"But that just means more room to run, I guess."

Mostert quickly added that he expects the unit to keep up its pace, and he is intent on beating his average from last season.

Special teams coordinator J.B. Gibboney said he thinks his group will respond, too.

Against Western Michigan in the bowl game, Purdue put together a plan to return kicks as deep as seven yards in the end zone, depending on how the Broncos lined up.

Though Gibboney didn't want to reveal any strategy, he admitted there are ways to devise plans to still have success even if the ball is kicked deep.

But he knows any plan he develops will be contingent on how the players follow it.

"I think there is more pressure on the returner now to make good decisions on when to bring the ball out," Gibboney said. "Obviously as coaches, we can't go out there and play the game for them. So they're going to have to use their judgment on when to bring a ball out. The game plan will help with that, but I think we can definitely be successful.

"I would expect anybody out there to execute it, but those guys (Mostert and Akeem Hunt) for sure. They're very experienced. They're not freshmen anymore. They've played in enough games, and they've made decisions back there. They made some of the wrong decisions, too, so they've learned. I would expect us to be able to hit the ground running. I wouldn't expect it to be an issue for us."

Hunt is excited for the challenge.

"I don't think it will be a hard decision because we know how to bring it on out, now that we've got the experience," he said. "So we'll know what to do and what not to do. "

There likely won't only be strategy from the return team, though.

Former Purdue kicker Carson Wiggs said he thinks there are some things the kicker can do, too, to force decisions. He said kickers could try to get more hang time on a kick and land it two yards deep in the end zone.

"It kind of depends on the kicker, if they're comfortable with that. I probably wouldn't have a tough time doing that," he said. "You just have to swing up on it a bit more instead of driving it, but it all depends on certain guy's leg strength to see what he can do.

"But, on the other hand, if you're kicking against a team like Purdue, which was No. 1 in the nation in kick returns, you might just want your guy to kick it out of the end zone if he can."




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