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.

Bears’ Markus Wheaton says wide receiver group is 'definitely underrated'

Bears’ Markus Wheaton says wide receiver group is 'definitely underrated'

No doubt, there are doubts about the makeup of this 2017 Bears wide receiver corps. But as the departed Alshon Jeffery created doubts, health-wise, the past two years about whether he could stay on the field to prove himself worthy of a big payday (which he didn’t even get from the Eagles), Ryan Pace brought in a handful of replacements who’ve flashed in this league before. But recent history’s shown each of them has something to prove as well.

From Rueben Randle to fellow former Giant Victor Cruz. From former first rounders Kendall Wright to Kevin White, taking a third swing at making it though an entire NFL season.

Then there’s Markus Wheaton, the only free agent signee at the position this season to receive a two-year deal ($11 million total, with $6 million guaranteed). Like the rest of the group, though, he’s at a career crossroads. Following seasons with 53 and 44 catches in Pittsburgh in 2014 and 2015 (with a 17-yard average in the latter), the quick-twitch former Steeler was limited to three games a year ago before eventually undergoing surgery for a torn labrum in January.

“Everyone’s new, so we don’t know what it’s gonna be,” he said of the group at the team’s recent minicamp in Lake Forest. “In Pittsburgh you kind of have a clue `cause they’ve done it for so long. Everybody’s new, everybody’s trying to find their niche, so we’ll see how it goes. Anything’s possible. We’ve got a lot of guys who are looking for opportunity. A lot of guys that are hungry and have something to prove. Anything’s possible. Anyone can come out on top. The ultimate goal is to win games and I’m sure the coaches will put us in position to do that.”

The former third-round pick out of Oregon State (where he’s the Beavers’ all-time career leader in receptions, one ahead of Brandin Cooks) played all three receiver positions in Pittsburgh at various times, and while he seems most natural in the slot, is working to make himself as versatile as possible here. But that comes with some risk as a quarterback room that’s also gone through its share of turnover tries to get on the same page with all the targets. But Wheaton is more than confident the results will come from within this group.

“I think we definitely are underrated," Wheaton said. "We’ve come in and worked to get to where we wanna be. We will get there, and it’ll show up on the field.”

The incumbents in the room include Joshua Bellamy, Deonte Thompson, Daniel Braverman, Cam Meredith, and, of course, White. Wheaton can see the potential in the ex-seventh overall draft pick.

“I couldn’t imagine all the stuff he’s been through, all the pressure that’s been put on him," Wheaton said. "But he’s a down-to-earth guy who works extremely hard, so I think he’s gonna get his. He’s a big-time playmaker, so I’m excited to see him play.

“They welcomed me with open arms. Everybody’s down to earth, been easy to talk to so when I have questions, I’ve been getting answers, so it’s been real easy for me.”

That surgically-repaired shoulder was cleared for full participation just in time for minicamp two weeks ago. And Wheaton won’t allow himself to become hesitant physically as he aims to conquer what hesitation he could have within the offense, working with quarterbacks not named Ben Roethlisberger.

“I really don’t think there’s time for that. When you’re ready to go, you just go,” Wheaton told us. “You come in, you work, you rehab. And for me personally I had to rehab a lot to get back to where I wanted to be. There’s a level I want to be at. I’ve been just working to get there, so there’s no time for that.”

That last statement comes even if some observers hesitate to call Wheaton and these wideouts “underrated.” They’ll start attempting to prove that when the Bears report to Bourbonnais exactly one month from Monday.

Derek Holland not satisfied despite strong outing in White Sox loss

Derek Holland not satisfied despite strong outing in White Sox loss

Derek Holland turned in one of his best starts of the season on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, the White Sox had nothing to show for it after a 5-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Sunday afternoon.

In six innings, Holland allowed four hits, one earned run, and two walks while recording six strikeouts. He was charged with his only run in the seventh, when he allowed a single to Yonder Alonso, who came around to score after Holland had been pulled from the game.

Despite his confidence in the bullpen, which has been one of the White Sox biggest strengths this season, Holland would like to see himself go deeper into the games.

“I should be getting into the 7th and not having 110 pitches,” Holland said. “The bullpen's done a great job of picking us up in the seventh, eighth and ninth. The starters, and really pointing more to myself, we need to...I need to go out there and go longer."

Entering Sunday, three of Holland’s last four starts had been the worst outings of the season – allowing 22 earned runs over those four games. Despite the team’s 5-3 loss, Holland felt his outing was a step in the right direction.

“I felt good about everything out there,” Holland said. “(Omar Narvaez) and I were right on the same page. There were just a couple of things that got away from us. Just one of those things. Defense made the plays for us when they needed to, unfortunately we just didn't come out on top."

Manager Rick Renteria also had high praise for the 30-year-old southpaw, who bounced back from one of his shortest outings of the season.

“I thought Holland, hopefully what's not lost is Holland's outing today was really, really good,” Renteria said. “He kept us in the ballgame. They've got some kids that can swing the bat. They were putting things together. All we were trying to do at the end was minimize any damage they could produce. We weren't able to.”