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The Early Lead
Posted at 09:33 AM ET, 08/12/2011

NFL’s new kickoff rule gets rocky reception from fans — and Josh Cribbs

The NFL’s new kickoff rule made its debut with the first preseason games Thursday night and, like all rule changes, it looks a lot different in practical application than it does on paper.

As fans watched the first games with the new rule and reacted in real time on Twitter, the initial reaction was negative. To recap, the rule changes the spot at which kickoffs take place from the 30 to the 35.

“We knew it was going to be a really drastic change,” Cincinnati Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis, a member of the competition committee, told The Post’s Mark Maske when the rule was adopted last spring. “It really caught everybody off guard.”

Coaches weren’t thrilled by the change and Lewis said he understood that, but that safety was the paramount concern.“Sometimes as coaches we need to really take a look at the bigger picture,” Lewis said. “Being on this committee, you take a different look at things.”

Baltimore Ravens Coach John Harbaugh was concerned about giving one side an advantage. “To me, it will swing the balance of the play dramatically to the kickoff team,” Harbaugh, who formerly coached the Philadelphia Eagles’ special teams, said.

It would seem, just from watching the first games, that it will indeed limit kickoff returns. The change, according to Judy Battista of the New York Times, “ensures that even average-strength kickers will now routinely sail kickoffs so deep into the end zone that only the most audacious, or maybe capricious, returner would think to take them out.”

Last year, 16.4 percent of kickoffs resulted in touchbacks, according to the Elias Sports Bureau and estimates this year range from 30 to 50 percent of kickoffs ending up as touchbacks, Battista writes. They may be one of the most exciting parts of the NFL game, but they’re also one of the most dangerous and no one wants to see a catastrophic injury.

Josh Cribbs of the Cleveland Browns, a vocal critic when the change was approved, didn’t like what he saw in Game 1 of the preseason and tweeted: “I see an immediate amendment on the kickoff rule either b4 the end of the year or beginning of next year bc without that part of the return game it might as well be a scrimmage....”

Well, not quite. But it was decidedly weird and raises all sorts of questions. I kicked off a conversation on Twitter by saying that I didn’t care for the change.

@CindyBoren I can sum up -- we're never going to see a KO return again. Thanks for the memories, Devin Hester.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet Reply

@CindyBoren @judybattista why you two gotta be the buzz kill twins? first games..the good kickers will figure out how to hang it high near 5less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

We weren’t alone in being the buzzkill twins and, although it hurts to admit it, Wingo does have a point that it’s very, very early and the NFL game is all about evolution. Still, fans were concerned about what they were seeing.

Beat me to it. HATE the new kixkoff rules // RT @CindyBoren: Let me be the first to say it: I don't like the new kickoff ruleless than a minute ago via Twitter for Android Favorite Retweet Reply

@CindyBoren Great minds. On the plus side, you get an extra 60 seconds or so to mull snack options during the inevitable touchback.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

@CindyBoren I don't even understand it. Why make the game LESS interesting?less than a minute ago via TweetList Pro Favorite Retweet Reply

@CindyBoren Was it that unsafe before? The new rule changes the game a ton.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

So far it's terrible. Doesn't work with modern kickers. RT @CindyBoren: Let me be the first to say it: I don't like the new kickoff rule.less than a minute ago via Echofon Favorite Retweet Reply

@MikePereira I'm all for safety but taking the KO Ret out of the game is ridiculous. It's football. There are going to be collisions.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad Favorite Retweet Reply

Mike Pereira, the NFL’s former vice-president of officiating and now a Fox analyst, pointed out in response to Twitter questions that it feels a little like an intentional walk in baseball, it’s all about reducing injuries and there’s no chance it gets changed before the start of the regular season.

@WazzuFBBlog >>>>yep. New kickoff rule takes away excitement.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad Favorite Retweet Reply

The NFL is nothing if not adaptable; it’s all about one side doing something to counter what the other is doing and maybe this will work itself out. Cribbs is alreadying thinking about that, no doubt encouraged by a late-game KO return for a TD by the San Diego Chargers, and no doubt isn’t the only returner doing so.

All these touchbacks....smh not me 9yds deep we bringing it out!!! 9 1/2 I'll think about it...less than a minute ago via TweetCaster for iOS Favorite Retweet Reply

By  |  09:33 AM ET, 08/12/2011

 
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