Kickoff rules changed, Bears will adjust

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Kickoff rules changed, Bears will adjust

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.

Alexandre Fortin signs three-year deal with Blackhawks

Alexandre Fortin signs three-year deal with Blackhawks

Alexandre Fortin was hoping to get a good enough look to earn a contract with the Blackhawks. On Sunday, he got it.

The Blackhawks agreed with Fortin on a three-year contract. The 19-year-old, who garnered attention at the team’s prospect camp in July, recorded 43 points in 54 games with Rouyn-Noranda (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League).

Fortin was passed over in two NHL drafts but his prospect camp was impressive enough to earn him an invitation to this training camp.

Notre Dame schedule watch: Irish bowl eligibility far from a guarantee

Notre Dame schedule watch: Irish bowl eligibility far from a guarantee

After losing to Duke to fall to 1-3, Notre Dame isn’t making a New Year’s Six bowl this year — and, the way things are shaping up, there’s a very real possibility for the Irish to have some nervy games to get to bowl eligibility in 2016. 

Should Notre Dame beat Syracuse, N.C. State, Navy and Army, and then at least one of Stanford, USC, Miami and Virginia Tech? Of course. But Notre Dame should’ve beaten Duke on Saturday — S&P+ gave the Irish an 84 percent chance of winning and the line was Notre Dame by 21. There are no sure victories left on this schedule, starting with next weekend’s game against Syracuse. 

Before looking at how Notre Dame’s opponents fared in Week 4, a power ranking of those 12 teams:

1. Stanford (3-0)
2. Miami (3-0)
3. Virginia Tech (3-1)
4. Michigan State (2-1)
5. Texas (2-1)
6. Navy (3-0)
7. Army 3-1)
8. Duke (2-2)
9. Syracuse (2-2)
10. N.C. State (2-1)
11. USC (1-3)
12. Nevada (2-2)

Worth noting, Notre Dame would probably slot in these at No. 11, just ahead of USC and Nevada, right now. 

On to the weekend’s results:

Texas: Bye

Charlie Strong put his coaches on notice this week as Texas licked its wounds from its 50-43 loss to Cal. Next up is a trip to Oklahoma State before the Red River Shootout against Oklahoma in Dallas. 

Nevada: Lost, 24-14, at Purdue

Purdue committed four turnovers and still won by 10 against a Nevada side that, after making back-to-back bowl games, should’ve done better than this. But hey, at least Nevada got a sack, meaning that for part of the afternoon Notre Dame was the only team at the FBS level without one. 

Michigan State: Lost, 30-6, vs. Wisconsin

So maybe Michigan State’s offense really isn’t as good as it looked against Notre Dame’s defense? Tyler O’Connor threw three interceptions and completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes (18/38 for 224 yards) as Wisconsin charged out of the second half with 17 third quarter points to cruise in East Lansing. Losing this badly at home qualifies as embarrassing for Mark Dantonio’s Spartans, but it doesn’t make Notre Dame — which was picked apart by O’Connor — look any better, either. 

Syracuse: Won, 31-24, at UConn

Eric Dungey threw for 407 yards and two touchdowns against Bob Diaco’s Huskies, with 270 of those yards and both scores courtesy of receiver Amba Etta-Tawo. Dino Babers’ up-tempo, passing-oriented offense could very well cause this shaky Irish secondary some problems at MetLife Stadium on Saturday. 

N.C. State: Bye

The Wolfpack had the weekend off before opening ACC play with a home date against Wake Forest next weekend. 

Stanford: Won, 22-13, at UCLA

Ryan Burns’ touchdown toss to JJ Arcega-Whiteside was the game-winner, and Soloman Thomas returned a fumble 42 yards with no time left to make this margin look a lot greater than it actually was. Christian McCaffrey rushed for 138 yards and Stanford held Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen to an 18/27, 248 yard, one touchdown evening. Next up for the Cardinal is a Friday night trip to Washington that could have College Football Playoff implications. 

Miami: Bye

An extra week to prepare for a road trip to Georgia Tech — which was blown out by Clemson last week — isn’t the worst thing to get ready to face the triple option. 

Navy: Bye

At 3-0, Navy is in a good position record-wise but the transition away from Keenan Reynolds hasn’t been entirely smooth. Navy travels to Air Force next weekend before hosting Houston on Oct. 8. 

Army: Lost, 23-20, at Buffalo

Army’s No. 1 placekicker was injured, and backup Blake Wilson missed what would’ve been a game-winning 34-yard field goal at the end of regulation. Instead, Army was dealt its first loss of the season in overtime to a fairly weak Buffalo side. At 3-1, Army is still in its best position in six years, but this is still a stinging loss. After a bye next weekend, Army travels to face Duke. 

Virginia Tech: Won, 54-17, vs. East Caorlina

Hokies quarterback Jerrod Evans threw for 282 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 97 yards and another score in a pasting of ECU, a perennial group-of-five upset specialist (ECU beat N.C. State earlier this year). Outside of that turnover-filled loss to Tennessee, Virginia Tech has looked pretty good so far in Year 1 of the Justin Fuente era. They have a bye next week before a trip to North Carolina that’ll be a good test for their ACC Coastal chances. 

USC: Lost, 31-27, at Utah

The Trojans are 1-3, and that there’s a very real path to that season-ending game against Notre Dame having bowl eligibility implications for both teams. USC led by 10 late in the third quarter but allowed a 15-play, 93-yard scoring drive that ended with an 18-yard game-winning touchdown for the Utes with 16 seconds left. How much longer does Clay Helton have in Los Angeles?