Stanford’s David Shaw opposes allowing touchbacks on fair catches inside 25


Stanford head coach David Shaw doesn’t care for the proposal by the NCAA Football Rules Committee that would give a team a touchback if it calls for a fair catch on a kickoff inside the 25-yard line.

Kickoff teams have increasingly tried to execute high kicks to pin the receiving team deep in its territory. NCAA secretary/rules editor Steve Shaw said the proposal should reduce high-impact collisions.

“I’m up for looking for things to make the game better and make it safer,” David Shaw said. “I don’t know that that (proposal) does that. If you want to change where the ball’s kicked off again, that’s fine. I have no problem with that.

“But when the ball’s caught in the field of play and you fair catch it, now we’ve changed some of the fundamental things of the game. To catch it on the 19-yard line and fair catch it, and then move it up — it’s a strange thing for me.”

He said it “feels almost like cheating. You shouldn’t be able to fair catch the ball and move it to another place. That doesn’t fit with my understanding of the way this game is played — with field position. It just doesn’t feel right.”

His distaste for the proposal might stem in part from Stanford’s traditional superiority on kickoffs. Cameron Scarlett last season ranked second in the Pac-12 with a 25.8-yard average on returns, and his 12 returns of 30 or more yards led the nation.

Scarlett is the latest in a line of excellent kickoff returners over the past nine years. Chris Owusu was fifth in the nation (31.5) in 2009 with three returns for touchdowns. Ty Montgomery was third (30.3) in 2013, and Christian McCaffrey was eighth (28.9) in 2015.

As for kick coverage, kickoff man Jake Bailey has one of the strongest legs in the country. Last season, 58 of his 83 kickoffs went for touchbacks.

“I love kickoff returns,” Shaw said. “I get excited about kickoff returns. I’d hate to damage that part of the game.”

Position change: Andrew Pryts, who will be a redshirt sophomore in the fall, was rated the nation’s eighth-best safety by Scout coming out of high school in Pennsylvania. He has been moved to inside linebacker, at his request, Shaw said.

“Andrew Pryts is a physical, physical player,” Shaw said. “We saw that in the high school film and heard that from the coaches who worked with him. He loves the game. We thought he had a chance to be a really good safety. I think he still could be. He came to me one day and said, ‘I think I’m a linebacker.’”

At 6-foot-1, 219 pounds, Pryts is in a group with Bobby Okereke, Sean Barton, Jordan Perez and Mustafa Branch. The safeties are Frank Buncom, Brandon Simmons, Ben Edwards and promising redshirt freshman Stuart Head. Because of injuries, cornerback Aameen Murphy is working there, too.

Opportunities abound: With more than two dozen players missing because of injuries, some previously obscure players are getting golden opportunities to impress the coaches in spring practice.

“A lot of the young guys are getting coached more than they’ve ever been coached,” Shaw said. “And frankly, their attitude is they’re excited about it.” He mentioned cornerbacks Treyjohn Butler and Malik Antoine as examples.

Offensive tackle Foster Sarell has received time at left guard. Shaw said all the offensive linemen are being moved around to increase their versatility.

Briefly: Because the quarterback corps has been thinned, Stanford alum Kevin Hogan, now with the Cleveland Browns, was among those throwing to receivers in individual drills this week. He is not allowed to take part in team drills, of course. … Sunday’s open practice will run from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. The second two-week session of spring ball begins April 3, and the spring game is April 14 at Cagan Stadium.

Tom FitzGerald is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @tomgfitzgerald


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