The NFL owners are meeting in New Orleans this week to discuss a variety of topics, most notably the state of the lockout and the labor dispute. The owners will also hear a presentation from the competition committee and vote on rule changes, one of which could have a profound impact on the Bears’ special teams advantage.
The competition committee will be proposing a rule change that will move the kickoff from the 30-yard line to the 35, and also move the position of the ball following a touchback from the 20-yard line to the 25. A third aspect of the kickoff changes is that players on the kickoff team — aside from the kicker — only are allowed to line up five yards from the ball. The latter I agree with because it’ll cut down on some of the vicious collisions — and head injuries — that happen on the kickoff team because the coverage team won’t have as big a running start. But the first two provisions could hurt the Bears’ special teams.
As it is now, most kickers can place the ball inside the 5-yard line in ideal weather conditions, and quite a few kickers can put it in the end zone. If the NFL moves the kickoff forward five yards, more kickoffs will go into the end zone. And if the NFL also advances the ball to the 25 after touchbacks, what incentive does a player have to attempt to return the ball? Only 13 players with at least 20 kickoff return attempts averaged more than 25 yards per return in 2010.
That would mean that if the ball reaches the end zone and a player tries to take it out, there’s a good probability he’d be stopped before the 25-yard line. Wouldn’t it be smarter for kick returners to down the ball in the end zone?
If these rules go into effect, the NFL would be throwing a wet cloth on one of its most exciting plays — the kickoff return. The league has been making constant efforts to enhance the excitement of the game for fans, but if they approve these changes, there will be more touchbacks and less thrill.
As it pertains to the Bears, who have had the most consistent and best kickoff returners for at least the past five years, this will take away one of their weapons and put extra pressure on the offense to move the ball a greater distance.