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Another take on the kickoff changes

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  March 22, 2011 12:27 PM

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NEW ORLEANS – One of the major rule changes to be voted on today by owners is the modifications to kickoffs in order to cut down on the number of injuries during the play.

The original proposal included:

  • Moving the kickoff line back to the 35 yard line from the 30;

  • Not allowing any member of the kickoff team other than the kicker to line up more than five yards from the kickoff line;

  • Moving the touchback on the kickoff from the 20 to the 25;

  • Making the kickoff out of bounds penalty 25 yards from the kickoff line instead of 30;

  • Eliminating of all forms of the wedge block, including the two-man wedge.

Not all the suggestions went over well, especially with Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

The competition committee was expected to tweak some of the changes and put the rule change to a vote today, along with adjustments to the defenseless receiver (would broaden it) and replay challenge rules (would make all scoring plays subject to instant booth confirmation and eliminate the third challenge).

Since Ravens coach John Harbaugh is one of the few to go from special teams coach (with Eagles from 1998-2007) to head coach, figured it would be interesting to get his perspective on the rule.

“No, we didn’t support it as it was pushed although we support the concept of it,” Harbaugh said. “The idea that there are some injuries going on in that play and player safety is No. 1 and if we can find a way to make it safer, we definitely support that, our organization does.”

On moving the kickoff line to the 35…

"To me it will swing the balance of the play dramatically to the kickoff team, and the kickoff teams will have the options. They can kick the touchback if they think they can, which they’ll be more capable of doing. Plus they’ll be covering from the 35-yard line with more hangtime. So it’s going to be tough to protect and defend the returner or to create a return."

The impact on kickers…

"To me, you’ll take the really good kickers out, the elite kickers and you’ll take the elite returners out of the game. But I think they understand that. So you’re just trying to find a way to make it work the best."

On what he would like to see in the final rule change…

"To me it’s got to be a combination. There are some things we would support more than other things. We can live with the ball at the 35-yard line although that, to me, doesn’t help our football team. Personally I’d rather see it all stay the same, without question. If they feel like they need to make a change to protect the players, I think the idea of not having the wedge is not good for the returner. It’s going to jeopardize the returner. Touchback at the 25 would be the other one. I think that would influence coaches not to kick touchbacks all the time. So now what you’d really be doing is you won’t limit the number of kickoff return collisions, you’ll just put the kickoff team at a big advantage. (The collision will happen at a different part of the field) with more hang time under the cover team."

On whether the kickoff has been the most dangerous in the game for players…

"I think it has been. You look at the history of football, there have always been changes to make the game safer. In 1906 they took out the flying wedge. To me, this is just an ongoing process and I think Roger Goodell is really, really tuned into that and that’s good. Taking the three- and four-man wedge really helped. Because now the injuries really aren’t happening now on the wedge. The two-man wedge hasn’t caused any high number of injuries because the player…when you have a four-man wedge you have to fit that wedge in those gaps. Or they just run right behind the wedge. The two-man wedge, you don’t have to run between those two guys. You can get to the edges of it, so you’re not jeopardizing the head and neck as much. To me, the three and four man wedge was a good elimination. The two-man wedge, to me that protects the returner."

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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