Harbaugh Calls For Revised Kickoff Changes

Reports indicate the original kickoff proposal was altered and will be voted on by owners.

Posted by Ryan Mink on Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011 at 11:39 am | Categories: Ryan Mink

Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh does not support the NFL Competition Committee’s original proposal to alter kickoffs, but it appears a revised proposal could meet Baltimore’s approval.

The original proposal would essentially level the special teams playing field, an area where the Ravens have held an advantage.

It would move kickoffs from the 30- to the 35-yard line, which would increase the number of touchbacks league wide. This past year, Baltimore had a leg up in that area with kicker Billy Cundiff.

More touchbacks would also hinder good kickoff return units, an area in which Baltimore progressively improved throughout the 2010 season. Wide receiver David Reed finished the year with the highest average kickoff return in the NFL.

“To me, in some ways you take the elite kickers and the elite returners out of the game,” Harbaugh told reporters. “But I think [the competition committee] understands that and they’re just trying to figure out a way to make it work best.”

Part of the original plan was also to eliminate the two-man wedge. Harbaugh, a former longtime special teams coach, believes that would lead to more blindside hits on the returner.

Finally, the original proposal was to start offenses at the 25 instead of the 20 after touchbacks. Considering the Ravens will likely get plenty of touchbacks from Cundiff and have one of the league’s top kickoff coverage units, a change would be a bonus for opponents.

“The way the rules are set up, it swings the advantage of the play to the kickoff team,” Harbaugh said. “It’s pretty dramatic. We don’t want a big return against us, but we’re not willing to give you the ball at the 25-yard line. That’s a big chunk.

“It’s got to be adjusted.”

Harbaugh said the Ravens made suggestions on how to alter the rule change proposal.

As reported by Mark Maske of The Washington Post, the revised rules have been altered and more closely reflects the Ravens’ vision.

Reportedly, the revised plan would leave touchbacks at the 20 and keep the wedge, but still start kickoffs at the 35. Coverage players would still only have a 5-yard running start before kickoff.

Owner Steve Bisciotti is one of 32 owners who will vote on the proposed rule changes today in New Orleans. Three-quarters of owners must approve a change in order for it to be enacted in 2011.

For Bisciotti, the issue is about improving player safety.

“From what I understand, the data is pretty compelling to consider changes to the kickoff that would reduce injury,” Bisciotti told The Baltimore Sun at the owners meetings in New Orleans.

“If smarter men than me feel that it’s a good decision, then I’m for it. I don’t have that strong of an opinion. We wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t in the name of player safety. I don’t know how you could walk away from compelling data that suggests making this change.”

In general, kickoff returns are something the Ravens don’t want to see lost.

“It’s such a huge change for the game,” Harbaugh told reporters. “We’ve been kicking off since 1869. It’s exciting.”

Cundiff said he would love to go for a touchback every time, but, like Harbaugh, also believes kickoff returns are essential to football.

“You’re talking about taking one of the game’s most exciting plays away,” Cundiff told The Sun.

“[I]f I was a fan, I wouldn’t want the competition committee to take away any play that could dramatically shift momentum in the game. We had one this year, and everybody remembers David Reed’s [103-yard touchdown] return against Houston.”

Tags: , , , , ,