Gould: Rule change may not reduce returns

Gould: Rule change may not reduce returns
March 22, 2011, 2:07 pm
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Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Posted: 8:56 a.m. Updated: 10:33 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Robbie Gould likes some of the proposed rules changes affecting the kickoff element of the game as theyre being discussed at the current NFL owners meetings. Cutting down on wedges of any kind, for instance, should reduce helmet-to-helmet collisions and the concussions that come along with those.

But the Bears kicker had an amusing angle, a couple actually, to the prospect of moving kickoffs from the 30-yard line out to the 35. That may not necessarily reduce the number of returns at all for some teams.

WORD ON THE STREET: Bears against kickoff rule changes

For one thing, itll help more older kickers keep their jobs longer, Robbie observed. The kick that was going to the goal line is now going five yards deep. And I think the wedge rules are great ideas as far as keeping guys healthier.

Aaah, but theres a catch. Because kicks are coming from the 35 now, the norm will be blasting away and drilling the ball out of the back of the end zone. Hang time? Whats that?

Hammering balls deeper means lower kicks that will be getting to the likes of Devin Hester, Ted Ginn and Percy Harvin faster than ever, so guys will be getting the ball faster before the coverage teams can get there, Robbie envisioned. More teams may take the chance and bring the ball out of the end zone.

Its a great point. Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub has given Hester license to return punts from just about anywhere if the ball has gotten there well ahead of the opposing coverage team. Does anyone think Hester (or Danieal Manning) isnt going to be looking at every line-drive kickoff as a return opp, particularly with a receiving unit absolutely dedicated to making history every time a team is misguided enough to put the ball in Hesters hands?

Not surprisingly, the rules changes have a touch of the bittersweet for Robbie, the player rep who is now a player advocate since the players decertified as a union and are now a trade association.

Theyre really focusing on one play that affects player safety, he notes. And if one play makes all that much difference, how it it that the NFL in previous negotiations wanted an extra two games without offering extra pay and health benefits?

Tough sell

Also not surprisingly, there is some pushback from coaches in particular on the proposed rules changes for kickoffs. Colleague Tom Curran of CSNNE.com caught up with Bill Belichick and Coach Hoodie represents a powerful voice on any NFL issue.

Sports Illustrateds Don Banks on SI.com notes that coaches (and others) cite kickoff returns for touchdowns as being among the games most exciting plays. No argument there. But Rich McKay on the Competition Committee isnt buying that as a reason to leave the high-risk play untouched when there are ways to increase player safety. And Don is spot on when he notes that player safety is a hot button right now, making it difficult to go against it, at least publicly.

Matters will be coming to a vote sooner rather than later, and dont rule out a rule out or two.

Miller not in favor of changes

Comcast SportsNet colleague and former Bears quarterback Jim Miller took his share of NFL hits during a solid career that included getting the Bears to the 2001 playoffs. But he is not in favor of the changes in kickoff rules on any basis of injury reduction.

Who wants to see a touchback? Jim tweeted on @15miller today. May as well eliminate the KO completely if youre kicking from the 35 yard line.

Jim notes that Bears President Ted Phillips is on record stating hell vote against the changes, and Jim cites a possible-simple unstated reason: because Hester is dynamic and makes the organization a lot of money. Ouch. But Jims general take is that owners will most likely vote for it because now it is one less player they will have to pay.

And not to over-simplify here, but Jim gets it. As Deep Throat once told Bob Woodward: Follow the money. Justfollow the money.

Clarification needed

Gould wants some clarity with respect to who is dealing with the NFL at this point. Its not the players association as a union; it is a trade association and the Bears kicker is rankled at figures on the owners side of the table continuing to refer to the players as a union.

On his Twitter account @RobbieGould09 on Tuesday, Robbie is emphatic: Can I have everyone retweet the words TRADE ASSOCIATION so maybe the owners and Jeff Pash can stop lying during every interview.

Not to take a side here but this shouldnt be trivialized. If the players respond to comments addressing them as a union, that may contribute to the impression that the move to de-certify is merely a procedural ploy, which is neither the case nor what players would like courts to be thinking as judges deliberate on injunctions and other matters in the situation.

Check it out

CSNNE.com Insider Tom Curran will visit with Mike Florio on Pro Football Talk Live. Mike's show starts at 11 a.m. Always good chats with the newsmakers.

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.