Revised Kickoff Rules Pass

Kickoffs will start at the 35-yard line, but touchbacks remain at the 20.

Posted by Ryan Mink on Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Categories: Ryan Mink

It seems suggestions from teams, including the Ravens, on how to modify kickoffs were heeded.

Owners passed new rules regarding kickoffs, but the changes weren’t as radical as first proposed by the NFL Competition Committee.

Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh did not support the first proposal, but said he would be on board if tweaks were made. According to The Baltimore Sun, the Ravens were among the 26 teams that voted in favor of the revised proposal.

Kickoffs will be moved from the 30- to the 35-yard line, which will result in more touchbacks and somewhat negatively impact the Ravens’ advantage with record-holding kicker Billy Cundiff.

But touchbacks will still come out to the 20-yard line instead of the 25, as first proposed. Teams can also continue to use a two-man wedge, which helps protect returners against blindside or one-on-one hits. Also in order to help safety, coverage players can now only get a 5-yard running start before kickoff instead of the usual 10- to 15-yard start.

“We can live with the ball at the 35-yard line, although to me that doesn’t help our football team,” Harbaugh told reporters at the owners meetings in New Orleans. “Without question, I’d rather it all stay the same.”

Baltimore had a vested interest in the change because they are one of the leading special teams units in the league with Cundiff, good coverage units and the NFL’s leader in average yards per return, David Reed.

Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti indicated that he was in favor of the rule changes to improve player safety. Concussions have been a problem during kickoffs, including for the Ravens, who saw tight end Dennis Pitta and Reed sidelined due to injuries.

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

“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.”

Teams were in search of a balance between improved safety and keeping the excitement and competitiveness of returns alive. But the rule changes will likely have a ripple effect.

With the new changes, teams likely won’t have the same use for kickoff specialists, since more kickers will be able to reach the end zone. The Ravens were already set with Cundiff.

Electrifying kickoff returners will be pinned back more often, but may still opt to return the ball. Had the ball automatically come out to the 25-yard line, more returners would have been encouraged to kneel.

The Ravens didn’t want to lose kickoff returns altogether.

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

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