Joe Nedney has a unique perspective on the proposed rule change regarding kickoffs. Nedney has been in the league long enough to remember why kickoffs were first moved from the 35-yard line to the 30. "That move to the 30 is kind of what got me into the NFL," said Nedney, who just completed his 15th season. "It invented the kickoff specialist."
Now the league is considering moving kickoffs back to the 35 again. The NFL's competition committee is looking into that change, along with a few others: placing touchbacks at the 25-yard line rather than the 20, doing away with two-man wedges, and prohibiting any cover man from lining up more than five yards behind the kickoff line.
When the league moved kickoffs back to the 30 in 1994, they did so because so many kickoffs were being blasted into the end zone for touchbacks that the play had become boring. But in their effort to infuse kickoffs with more excitement, the league also made them more dangerous, something Nedney acknowledges. "I watched my teammate, Phillip Adams, hurt his ankle on a kickoff to the point where he almost seemed to be disfigured," Nedney said. Another cornerback, Will James, also missed a big chunk of the season after suffering a concussion on a kickoff while receiver Dominique Zeigler suffered an ACL tear on a kickoff.
But Nedney also wonders whether the move will suck the energy out of what has become an exciting, momentum-building play. Nedney recalled the opening kickoff on Oct. 31 in London where a stadium full of red-flag-waving Brits ratcheted up the noise level as AC DC's "Thunderstruck" boomed over the loudspeakers. "That was the closest I've come to a Super Bowl atmosphere," he said.
The rule change is getting some initial resistance. The Chicago Bears, who have an excellent return man in Devin Hester, have indicated they'd likely oppose it. The Bears ranked second in kick-return average in 2010. The 49ers, meanwhile, ranked 30th.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick also didn't seem too keen on the proposal. "It's a pretty complicated proposal," Belichick said today at the owners meetings in New Orleans. "I don't like the idea of eliminating the kickoff from the game. I think it's one of the most exciting plays in football. It looks like the competition committee is trying to eliminate that play. I don't know if that's really good for the game."
-- Matt Barrows