Leave it to the Chicago Bears to cause controversy in the NFL. One of the handful of teams that voted against the new rule to kickoff from the 35-yard line instead of the 30, Chicago has a lot to lose from the new order as dangerous kick returner Devin Hester will have fewer opportunities to make highlight films.
Teams with strong kickoff specialists have the most to gain, they will put their team’s defense on the field at the 20-yard line more often than not. But this is the preseason, and one problem with not having kickoff returns is you don’t know if your kickoff coverage teams are worthwhile or not. So the Chicago Bears took matters into their own hands; they opted to kick off from the 30-yard line so they could get some film on their kickoff coverage teams.
But now the vice president of officiating Carl Johnson put a stop to the practice after finding out the Bears had kicked off twice from the 30. Those were Johnson’s exact words; “Put a stop to it.” But for how long?
Head coach Lovie Smith had insinuated the Bears received permission to kickoff from the 30. His point is valid; how are special teams coordinators going to pick the best 11 guys to cover kicks when every time you kick the ball its downed in the end zone. Bill Belichick came out earlier this week with the same question, explaining the new rule could impact how he shapes the New England roster.
The real insanity of the whole edict is that it’s really not enforceable. The Bears, or any other team for that matter, simply need to commit a penalty and kickoff from five yards back. It’s doubtful any team will refuse.
The rule was put in place to return kickoffs back to their pre-1994 kickoff location. The statistics showed a disproportionate amount of injuries during kickoff returns as opposed to other game play. But this is the preseason, and a team should be allowed to kickoff once or twice from the 30 to get a feel for their level of liability before the regular season starts.