Kickoff rules changed, Bears will adjust

Kickoff rules changed, Bears will adjust
March 22, 2011, 7:19 pm
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Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Posted: 2:01 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The rules are changed, as expected, and now come the adjustments.

The NFL will move kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35, meaning more kicks into end zones and therefore more touchbacks, which still will come out to the 20-yard line, rather than the 25 as had been proposed.

The league is reducing the number of kickoff returns, unquestionably one of the more electrifying plays in the game, in the interests of reducing the number of injuries from high-speed collisions. Along with those changes, members of the kicking team are allowed no more than a five-yard run-up as their kicker puts his foot into the ball. At the other end, no wedges involving more than two blockers will be permitted.

It wasnt exactly what the Bears wanted, but theyll live with it.

Obviously, our agenda would have been to leave it like it is but we understand the big picture, Bears GM Jerry Angelo told CSNNE.com colleague Tom Curran. They laid out some facts to us and in the best interest of our game and the best interest of our players, this was the best result. We understand it, it's part of the game and we're still going to have kickoff returns. I see it as an adjustment, nothing major.

Major is of course a relative term, and if youre among the NFLs best on kickoffs, as the Bears are, it could be major if it dulls an edge the Bears hold with Devin Hester and Danieal Manning returning kicks.

There are other teams with excellent returners too and all the sentiments were fleshed out by all the teams but we understand the big picture on it, Angelo said. We feel good about the rule and what it will do for the safety of our game. It's still going to be a dimension. It's not going away.

Neither is replay. In fact, its going to get better.

Coaches no longer will need to risk replay challenges for reviews of scoring plays. Those will be automatically subject to review, which should have been the case all along. Consider that an overdue good tweak of a rule intended to get it right.

Back to the kickoffs...

You do wonder if the league will do away with the K balls introduced in 1999 to shorten kicks and go back to letting kickers doctor footballs. Probably not but its a thought.

Robbie Gould told CSNChicago.com that he isnt sure that the game has seen the end of spectacular kickoff returns. Because of the closer launch point (the 35), the temptation will be to drill balls well into or out of the end zone, and that necessarily means lower, driving kicks.

That means returnable kicks. And because touchbacks will still come out to the 20, bringing the ball out of the end zone will clearly still work for the best.

Right now the longest kickoff return is 108 yards, by Ellis Hobbs for New England against the Jets on Sept. 9, 2007.

You read it here first: The Longest kickoff return record will fall in 2011 when someone (Manning or Hester are my co-choice) brings one out from nine yards deep. Some well-meaning kicker will be a yard short of target with a low line drive that the Bears returner will field, knowing that no one from the coverage team is closer than the 20. Coordinator Dave Toub will roll his eyes and HesterManning will just plain roll.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.