Denver (AP) -- The eight teams left in the NFL playoffs can
thank their special teams for a good part of their success. That's one
reason players are still upset Commissioner Roger Goodell has floated
the idea of abolishing kickoffs altogether.
Baltimore Ravens return specialist Jacoby Jones, who returned two
kickoffs for touchdowns this season, said if the league gets rid of the
electrifying plays, ''I'm going to retire. I will go (ballistic). ...
If they take out kickoffs, they're going to hate me in this league.''
The idea is only a suggestion, one Goodell says the league will
consider in the offseason for safety reasons, but players are
vehemently opposed to such a radical change they contend would shake
the foundation of America's most popular sport.
''I haven't found anybody that likes the idea, because, first of all,
the sport is called football, so you can't keep taking the foot part of
it out,'' Denver Broncos punter Britton Colquitt said. ''It would also
be really confusing if they were like, `Stay tuned for kickoff,' and
there was no kickoff, you know? What are they going to say, `Stay tuned
for the start of the game'?
Abolishing kickoffs would also eliminate the onside kick as an option -
like the one the New Orleans Saints used to turn the tide against the
Indianapolis Colts coming out of halftime in the Super Bowl three years
ago - and it would prune some pizazz from the game, like Desmond
Howard's kickoff return for a touchdown that gave Brett Favre his only
championship ring in the mid-1990s.
Of the 13 kickoff-return TDs this season, seven came from teams that
reached the playoffs as the Ravens, Colts, Patriots, Broncos, Seahawks
and Vikings all sported resumes that boasted at least one of the
Players say rules changes like banning the blocking wedge, moving the
kickoff up five yards and limiting the number of players who can line
up on one side of the ball for an onside kick have already lessened the
number of violent collisions in games and they wonder if messing with
the kickoffs is simply going too far.
''If you've got to do something about it, if you still feel like it's
injuries, then move it up to the 40 and then it's like 99 percent of
the time it's going to be a touchback,'' Colquitt suggested.
That way, the onside kick would still be an option.
''But you even see the returners, they're returning the ball from
deeper in the end zone than they used to because they want to return
it,'' Colquitt said. ''They're not out there in fear for their life,
they're not saying, `I don't want to do this.'''
Indeed, there were eight 100-yard kickoff-return touchdowns in 2012,
the most of any season in NFL history.
''Bringing one out, how is that unsafe? It's football,'' Jones said.
''Everybody doesn't take them out from 8 yards deep, but I take my
chances because I have fun. And I have guys in front of me that do a
heck of a job blocking. We take care of each other and roll with the
The NFL has made safety a top priority in recent years as it faces
lawsuits by thousands of former players who say the league withheld
information on the harmful effects of concussions. According to an AP
review of 175 lawsuits, 3,818 players have filed suit. At least 26 Hall
of Famers are among the players who have done so.
Two years ago, the league moved the kickoff from the 30 to the 35-yard
line to cut down on violent collisions, and that has resulted in far
more touchbacks and, the league says, a lot fewer head injuries.
The average number of kickoff returns since the rule change has fallen
to 1,385 a season from about 2,100 per year before the change,
according to STATS LLC.
''We continue to look for other ways to take the head out of the
game,'' Goodell said in a recent speech at Harvard. ''Two years ago we
moved the kickoff line five yards forward to the 35. That reform
yielded real benefits - a 40 percent reduction in concussions last year
on kickoffs. College football then adopted our rule. Some think that
the kickoff, the play with the highest injury rate, should be
eliminated from the game or modified even further.''
Tampa Bay first-year coach Greg Schiano suggested to Goodell that
instead of kickoffs, teams would have the option of punting from the
30-yard line or going for a first down in a fourth-and-15 situation.
Schiano witnessed one of his players at Rutgers, Eric LeGrand, get
paralyzed on a kickoff in 2010.
Goodell has called Schiano's idea ''interesting.''
Browns kicker Phil Dawson believes it's illogical.
''I'm all for player safety,'' Dawson said recently. ''I do think the
NFL has done a good job in the past, like with the wedge rule. This
suggestion doesn't add up. It doesn't address what they say the dangers
are because punts are just as violent. There aren't going to be any
touchbacks. How many times have you seen a punt returner waiting for
the ball to come down and the gunner just kills him? It doesn't make
sense to me.''
Without the kickoff, teams trailing in the waning minutes would have to
convert fourth-and-long following a score instead of attempting an
Interestingly, since 2005, the onside kick conversion rate has been
19.7 percent, while the rate for fourth-and-15 has been 19.2 percent,
according to STATS.
Eliminating kickoffs would also get rid of the onside kick as a
strategic surprise, the kind the Saints used to win the Super Bowl.
Then, there's the whole issue of job security for special teams.
''That's how some people make it in the NFL,'' Jones said. ''If it
wasn't for kickoff and punt returns, I probably would have had a shot
at making it, but that's my best asset. What about Devin Hester?''
The idea of abolishing one of the game's most exciting aspects
certainly irritates Trindon Holliday, who has returned both a punt and
a kickoff for touchdowns for Denver this season.
''I don't like it. He's messing with some of the players'
livelihoods,'' said Holliday, who pointed to teammate Omar Bolden, a
rookie cornerback who had nine special teams tackles and a 19.3-yard
kickoff return average, as an example of a young player making his mark
on special teams while biding his time behind veteran players on
Teams will always need a fourth receiver or a third running back, so
their jobs won't necessarily go away. But their opportunities to
contribute, make an impression in games and earn more playing time from
scrimmage certainly will, suggested Broncos receiver Matthew Willis,
who earns his activation on game days primarily for his contributions
on all of Denver's special teams units.
Opportunities. Onside kicks. Electrifying returns.
It's just too much to take from the game, Colquitt said.
''Sometimes there's too many things that people try to change when if
it ain't broke, don't fix it,'' he said. ''I know it's all because of
injuries, but I think there's a lot more guys getting hurt on offense
and defense than in the kicking game.''