Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, chairman of the NFL’s competition committee, which had proposed the changes, said the modifications would make the kickoff a safer play.
What “we wanted to achieve is changing where the coverage team lines up . . . Hopefully that changes the [injury] numbers. We think it will,” he said.
No changes were made to where the ball will be placed on kickoff touchbacks or rules that allow two blockers on the kick return team to line up shoulder-to-shoulder in a “wedge.” The competition committee originally proposed placing the ball at the 25-yard line , instead of the 20, on touchbacks, and eliminating wedge blocking entirely.
But after objections were raised Monday by coaches, particularly to the spot of the ball on touchbacks, the competition committee modified its proposal.
Baltimore Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said earlier Tuesday: “The two-man wedge hasn’t really caused injuries. The three- and four-man wedge was a good elimination. The two-man wedge, that protects the returner.”
The changes would take effect at the start of the 2011 season.
Cincinnati Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis, a member of the competition committee, said earlier Tuesday that the modifications to the proposal were intended to generate the votes necessary for ratification.
“We knew it was going to be a really drastic change,” Lewis said at the coaches’ breakfast with reporters. “It really caught everybody off guard.”
Lewis said he understood the resistance by some coaches to the proposal. But coaches need to understand, Lewis said, that the changes are being made in the name of safety.
“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.”
Harbaugh said at the coaches’ breakfast that he supported the idea of making the kickoff safer but believed the changes would favor the kicking team over the returning team.
“To me, it will swing the balance of the play dramatically to the kickoff team,” said Harbaugh, who coached the Philadelphia Eagles’ special teams for many years.
McKay predicted that the number of touchbacks will increase modestly from last season’s 16 percent. He said he understood why teams with productive kick returners opposed the measure, which needed at least 24 votes among the 32 teams and passed, 26-6.
But McKay also said: “We are always going to have player safety trump the competitive aspect of the game, period.”
The new replay rule was approved by a vote of 30-2, eliminating the need for a coach to challenge a scoring play before it can be reviewed. Coaches, in fact, are barred from challenging scoring plays. The challenge system for replay otherwise remains unchanged.
The proposal was modified to continue giving a team a third replay challenge if it gets its first two correct. The plan originally would have eliminated the third replay challenge.
The owners also ratified a measure that requires league approval before a team can color its home field anything but green.
There was no vote by the owners Tuesday on plans to expand the protection for a defenseless receiver making a catch and to ban a tackler from launching himself at an opponent in almost all cases. Those measures might be resubmitted to the owners at their next meeting in May as two separate proposals, McKay said.