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Has the change in the NFL kickoff distance been a good move?

August 16, 2011 | 10:46 am


Writers from around the Tribune Co. discuss the topic of the NFL's decision to have teams kick off from their 35-yard line this season rather than the 30 and to allow players on the coverage team to have a running head start of no more than five yards. Weigh in with a comment of your own.

Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times

A couple of years ago, Carson Palmer predicted something horrifying: With the ever-increasing size and speed of players, coupled with the ramped-up violence of the game, at some point soon an NFL player would die on the field. Were that to occur, there’s a decent chance it would happen on a kickoff.

Nowhere are collisions more consistently brutal. The league monitors these things to the most minute degree, and there’s no way it would do anything to dampen the most exciting play in football if there wasn’t a real and increasing danger of a terrible outcome.

Call it the wussification of the game if you like, but it was a good move in the name of player safety. It wasn’t an egregious wrenching of the rules, either -- as the suggested moving of touchbacks to the 25 would have been -- because before 1994 kickoffs were at the 35 anyway.

This was just a return to the old system. And, in the name of keeping players a little safer, it was a smart move.

Dan Pompei, Chicago Tribune

Moving the kickoffs to the 35-yard line is not going to make the NFL a more exciting game. It’s going to make the NFL a more boring game. But the point that’s getting lost in all of this is the rule change is going to make the NFL a safer game.

That’s why the NFL tinkered with the kickoffs. The kickoff return traditionally is the most dangerous play in the NFL. The injury rate, and specifically the head injury rate, on kickoff returns is much higher than it is on any other play.  And it makes sense when you consider it is the only play in which multiple players are colliding when running unimpeded at full speed.

Fewer kickoffs, then, means a safer game -- even if it means a duller one.

Peter Schmuck, Baltimore Sun

No doubt, the NFL had its heart in the right place when the owners decided to move the kickoff line up five yards and reduce the take-off distance for the kickoff coverage team. That should lead to fewer injuries on special teams, so who could possibly be against it?

Well, er, me. The kickoff used to be one of the most exciting plays in football. Now, they might as well just place the ball at the 20-yard line and cut the game-day rosters to 40 players. Either that or move the ball up to the 30-yard line after a touchback to encourage coverage teams to keep the ball in play.

The NFL needs to rethink this rule before the start of the regular season.       

Mike Berardino, South Florida Sun Sentinel

Leave it to the NFL to tweak something that didn’t need to be tweaked. It’s bad enough that all scoring plays must now be reviewed, no matter how obvious. But this decision to move kickoffs back up to the 35-yard line?  Ridiculous.

If player safety was the primary concern, outlawing the three-man blocking wedge and restricting coverage teams to a five-yard runup were sufficient. But modern kickers are far too powerful to let them move back to the 35. That’s why, amid a cavalcade of touchbacks, you’ve already seen several teams kick off from their 30 in exhibition games. Not as a matter of rebellion, but simply in an effort to evaluate young coverage candidates.

Of course, once the regular season starts, the only type of kickoff return you’ll likely see will come on squib kicks or onside attempts. Everything else will be through the end zone.


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Photo: Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Williams, right, prepares for a kickoff during a preseason game against the New York Giants on Saturday. Credit: Sam Sharpe / U.S. Presswire