Dramatic Rules Changes Proposed For Kickoffs

In part of sweeping changes to limit injuries, kickoffs would be pushed back to the 35-yard line. Plus, the NFL's Competition Committee proposes changes in instant replay and broadens the "defenseless player" designation.

The NFL's Competition Committee is proposing a major overhaul of kickoff rules in its latest push for player safety.

The headline proposal would be turning back the clock 17 years and having teams kick off from the 35-yard line rather than the 30.

But that's just part of the proposal:

— No member of the kickoff team can line up more than 5 yards from the kickoff line. Frequently now, players on the coverage unit line up at the 15- or 20-yard line to get a running start. If the rules changes are adopted, the ball would be placed at the 35 and coverage players couldn't line up deeper than the 30.

— Last year, the league banned wedges of more than two players. The proposal would eliminate the wedge altogether, making it a man-on-man blocking scheme.

— To compensate for the loss in field position, the offense would take over at the 25 following a touchback instead of the 20. On a kickoff out of bounds, the offense would continue to take over at the 40-yard line.

The changes seem radical, though the league says concussions and severe injuries have been on the rise.

"Today, the average start line is about the 27, maybe 27.6 or 27.7, and so what we are saying is if you do have the ability to create a touchback, you are not gaining any great advantage by putting them back at the 20," committee chairman Rich McKay said. "We are moving it to the 25. We think that there is a balance for the return team in the sense that we are moving the people that cover the kicks, they are moving up almost 15 yards from where they start. So, instead of getting that running start they once had, they won't have that ability. They will only be able to get a 5-yard running start instead of a 15-yard running start. We want to see how it plays itself out. We can't really tell you with great certainty where the average start line will be, but we think it will be closer to what it has been historically than you think the change might bring."

More player safety

McKay outlined several other player-safety proposals, extending the definition of "defenseless players" to:

— The quarterback or the player in the act of or just after throwing a pass.

— The receiver attempting to catch a pass, which includes the receiver who hasn't completed a catch or had time to protect himself.

— A runner who's in the grasp of a tackler and whose forward progress has been stopped.

— Kickoff or punt returner attempting to field a kick in the air.

— A player on the ground at the end of a play.

— A kicker or punter during the kick or during the return.

— A quarterback at any time after a change of possession;

— A player who receives a blindside block.

"We'll try to expand one of the protections which is to the defenseless receiver himself, which is one of the eight categories of defenseless players," McKay said. "We'll try to expand that protection until the receiver can either protect himself or clearly becomes a runner. We're just trying to expand that window to protect that player from either getting hit in the head or getting hit by the head. Those are the two protections you basically have as a defenseless player. So, we're definitely expanding the envelope from which that player can have protection."

Instant replay

Two changes were proposed:

— All scoring plays would be reviewed without a coaching having to use one of his challenges. The change does not apply to non-scoring plays, meaning, for instance, if a receiver is ruled to have not gotten both feet inbounds in the end zone, the coach would have to challenge the ruling of no touchdown.

— With that change, coaches would have just two challenges. In the current system, if a coach wins his first two challenges, he'll get a third.

The committee talked about the college system, in which every play is automatically reviewed, but did not consider its adoption.

"We certainly do not want to slow down the game, and I don't think any of us ever see us going back to a system that we had where every play was reviewable based on the decision of the guy upstairs," McKay said. "But this is a step where we think we are benefitting the coaches and potentially making sure that on the biggest plays of the game, we have the opportunity to confirm all of them."

Odds and ends

Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson's infamous no-catch against Chicago last year would remain a no-catch.

"There are three elements to a catch," McKay said. "Number one, you've got to secure control of the ball in your hands. Number two, you've got to maintain that control when you have two feet down or any body part other than your hands. Number three, which will be the clarification that we'll add to the book, we'll say you must control the ball long enough after A and B, meaning you've caught it cleanly and you've got two feet down or a body part, and after those two elements then you've got to maintain control long enough. We're going to use the language we've had in the book for a long time, in which you would have the ability to perform any act common to the game. It doesn't mean you have to perform the act, but it's an element of time and you've got to write it in such a way where people understand that it's not just bang-bang and that's a catch."

 — Subjecting penalties, like pass interference, to a replay review was not considered.

"We have never been in the business of wanting to put those in the category of reviewable plays," McKay said. "And neither does college, because the thought has always been that you are substituting one person's judgment with another person's judgment, and that is problematic in our mind."

— The schedule will be released in mid-April, as always, despite the lockout. 

— McKay said teams "did not have an appetite" to reseeding the playoffs after the wild-card games.

 — The new postseason overtime rules will not be extended to the regular season.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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