Kickoffs moved to 35, touchbacks stay at 20
Tuesday, March 22, 2011; 4:10 PM
NEW ORLEANS -- The NFL will move kickoffs up 5 yards to the 35-yard line, keep touchbacks coming out to the 20 and allow the number of players in a blocking wedge to remain at two.
Kick coverage players now will be limited to lining up 5 yards or fewer from the spot of the kickoff.
Team owners also voted Tuesday to make all scoring plays reviewable by the replay official and referee. But they tabled a proposal to ban players launching themselves to make a tackle, and will reconsider it in May.
The league's competition committee proposed placing the ball at the 25 after touchbacks on kickoffs and banning the wedge altogether. Several coaches expressed concern about making too many changes to kickoffs, also saying bringing touchbacks out 5 more yards would affect field position too much. Coaches worried about an increase in touchbacks from the 16 percent of kickoffs last season.
"Any time there's a touchback and now it's not coming to the 20," Saints coach Sean Payton said, "I think that that probably was the most drastic of the four or five items that constituted one rule."
Making kickoffs safer was the objective, and Payton believes the owners met it, voting 26-6 for the new rule.
"The bottom line is it's ... the highest risk of injury play," he said.
Browns standout returner Joshua Cribbs wasn't thrilled by the changes, tweeting: "Essentially taking returners out of the game...injuries will still take place, then what move it up again, or eliminate it all together."
On touchbacks, competition committee chairman Rich McKay said coaches were concerned about an increase in high kicks from the 35 intended to trap returning teams deep and severely decreasing the number of returns. He also said the two-man wedge was not a driving force in the uptick in injuries on kickoffs. Indeed, more injuries occur in coverage than on the return squads.
As for the six no votes, McKay said: "The objections were, 'Hey, you're affecting my team.' Clearly, some teams have good kick returners and they said, 'What if there's 10 percent less returns?'
"We have no answer," McKay added, "but player safety will always trump any other consideration."
Yet the two player safety amendments were tabled until the May league meetings. A proposal to outlaw players launching to make hits was deferred, as was expanding the definition of a defenseless receiver.