Here is a shot of Eric Weems 102 yard kickoff return last season. Get ready to see a lot less of this in 2011. Of course, that's if there IS a 2011 season.
Yesterday the NFL Competition Committee and the NFL owners voted on some rule changes to take effect this season. Here's my opinion on a couple of the major changes:
Kickoffs will move from the 30 to the 35 yard line: RED LIGHT!
I begin with this one because it is getting the most criticism nationally and I want to be first in line. The kickoff return is one of the most exciting plays in the game and we will be robbed of many opportunities to see long returns this year. I guarantee you will see a tremendous spike in touchbacks this year since the idea to move touchbacks to the 25 was denied. Last season there were 416 touchbacks and 23 kickoff returns for touchdowns. In 1993, the last year the NFL kicked off from the 35, there were 520 touchbacks and only 4 kickoff return touchdowns! Expect similar numbers to 1993 this year.
Billy Cundiff of the Cowboys had an 89% touchback percentage from the 30 last year. He may be at 95-100% this year. People keep saying there will be more directional kickoffs this year because of the rule change, but why would any team risk letting a return man get his hands on the ball when you can boot it out of the endzone at will and make the opposing team drive 80 yards each possession? As a football coach, my choice there is simple. I don't buy that logic for a second.
This rule devalues players like Devin Hester, Josh Cribbs and Eric Weems (pictured above) and the impact they can have on games. Eric Weems made the Pro Bowl as a special teamer this year. Without his return ability, his value is diminished greatly. The same is true for many of the return specialists in the NFL, as they are minor contributors at their positions on offense and defense.
I realize the counterpoint of this argument is player safety, but do we need to drastically change the game, as I believe this will? Should Major League Baseball put L-Screens in front of the pitchers mound during games? That would increase safety too.
All scoring plays will be subject to booth review: GREEN LIGHT!
This is a much needed change in my opinion. Too many coaches are having to waste precious challenges on plays near the goal line. This will allow controversial calls to be corrected, without either team being punished by having to use a challenge. This should have been in place from the outset of instant replay, as is used in the college game. The NFL certainly got this one right.
According to the NFL, the changes that were made were done to promote safety. Understand this: I'm all for safety, but not at the expense of altering the outcome of games! It will be interesting to watch the preseason to see how teams adjust to the new rules.