NFL players don't want kickoffs to get the boot

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 10, 2013 at 1:13 pm •  Published: January 10, 2013
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"We continue to look for other ways to take the head out of the game," Goodell said in a recent speech at Harvard. "Two years ago we moved the kickoff line five yards forward to the 35. That reform yielded real benefits — a 40 percent reduction in concussions last year on kickoffs. College football then adopted our rule. Some think that the kickoff, the play with the highest injury rate, should be eliminated from the game or modified even further."

Tampa Bay first-year coach Greg Schiano suggested to Goodell that instead of kickoffs, teams would have the option of punting from the 30-yard line or going for a first down in a fourth-and-15 situation. Schiano witnessed one of his players at Rutgers, Eric LeGrand, get paralyzed on a kickoff in 2010.

Goodell has called Schiano's idea "interesting."

Browns kicker Phil Dawson believes it's illogical.

"I'm all for player safety," Dawson said recently. "I do think the NFL has done a good job in the past, like with the wedge rule. This suggestion doesn't add up. It doesn't address what they say the dangers are because punts are just as violent. There aren't going to be any touchbacks. How many times have you seen a punt returner waiting for the ball to come down and the gunner just kills him? It doesn't make sense to me."

Without the kickoff, teams trailing in the waning minutes would have to convert fourth-and-long following a score instead of attempting an onside kick.

Interestingly, since 2005, the onside kick conversion rate has been 19.7 percent, while the rate for fourth-and-15 has been 19.2 percent, according to STATS.

Eliminating kickoffs would also get rid of the onside kick as a strategic surprise, the kind the Saints used to win the Super Bowl.

Then, there's the whole issue of job security for special teams.

"That's how some people make it in the NFL," Jones said. "If it wasn't for kickoff and punt returns, I probably would have had a shot at making it, but that's my best asset. What about Devin Hester?"

The idea of abolishing one of the game's most exciting aspects certainly irritates Trindon Holliday, who has returned both a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns for Denver this season.

"I don't like it. He's messing with some of the players' livelihoods," said Holliday, who pointed to teammate Omar Bolden, a rookie cornerback who had nine special teams tackles and a 19.3-yard kickoff return average, as an example of a young player making his mark on special teams while biding his time behind veteran players on defense.

Teams will always need a fourth receiver or a third running back, so their jobs won't necessarily go away. But their opportunities to contribute, make an impression in games and earn more playing time from scrimmage certainly will, suggested Broncos receiver Matthew Willis, who earns his activation on game days primarily for his contributions on all of Denver's special teams units.

Opportunities. Onside kicks. Electrifying returns.

It's just too much to take from the game, Colquitt said.

"Sometimes there's too many things that people try to change when if it ain't broke, don't fix it," he said. "I know it's all because of injuries, but I think there's a lot more guys getting hurt on offense and defense than in the kicking game."

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AP Sports Writers David Ginsburg and Tom Withers contributed.

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton