Cincinnati Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons doesn’t think the NFL needs to add any more rules to the kickoff, but he was happy to be a part of the panel discussing proposed changes last week in New York.
Simmons was one of nine special teams coordinators on the 50-person panel that also included four head coaches, four owners, five full-time officials, current players, former players and media representatives and a couple of competition committee members.
“They showed us a chronology of changes made in the league over the last 10 years, and it went from not many until now the changes just go through the roof,” Simmons said. “I don’t know that we’re on the right trajectory in terms of changes we’re making. We’re making a lot. I worry about that.
“I don’t want to change the fabric of what this game is,” he added. “That’s what we tried to stay away from with the rule changes we proposed. Let’s try to make them as subtle as we can.”
While there has been speculation the league is considering banning the kickoff, Simmons said that was never discussed.
“Nobody wants to take the play out of the game because it’s too exciting of a play,” he said. “You eliminate the kickoff play, what’s next. Let’s say it’s third and 15 and the quarterback can’t throw the ball in the middle of the field to a receiver who’s running a seam because the safety could hit him.
“Sometimes I wonder if we’re doing the right things,” he continued. “Everybody wants to keep it safe, but it’s still what the game is. I think everybody is for keeping it as safe and as exciting as possible, which keeps an interest in the game instead of starting to go the other way, where it loses interest because there are all these changes all the time and then it becomes harder for everybody to understand and harder for everybody to follow.”
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The three rule change proposals the committee came up with will go to an owners vote at the spring meeting in Chicago on May 22. Approval from 24 of the 32 owners is needed to pass each proposal.
Re-aligning the kickoff team.
That means no more running starts for the coverage unit. Players can line up no deeper than 1 yard behind the ball, which in most cases is the 34-yard line.
This could lead to more returns because the coverage team will not be as far down the field when the ball is received. Or, as Simmons pointed out, it could lead to fewer returns because teams that were kicking short in an attempt to stop the returner from reaching the starting point for touchbacks (25-yard line) may reconsider and try for more touchbacks.
Re-aligning the return team.
Eight of the 11 players have to be between their own 40-yard line and the opponent’s 45 and no blocking is allowed until members of the kicking team reach the 50 (or 15 yards from the spot of the kick).
“So you can’t short set and attack block,” Simmons said. “That’s where a couple of the injuries were occurring, where those first-level blocks, where you take one step and attack a guy before the guy really has a chance to protect himself.”
No wedge blocking.
The league recently reduced a wedge to just two players with a third being no more than 2 yards away. The new proposal will eliminate wedges altogether, prohibiting two players to come together to form a wedge.
The proposed changes could put more of an emphasis on quicker, more athletic players while negating, or eliminating, the need for bigger and stronger blockers and coverage personnel.
“It’s a little bit to be seen,” Simmons said. “That was one of our concerns was you only have so many skill players active on game day. We could start running out of space players or skill players. You could see less of those big guys in both coverage and on the return teams. That’s where some of the injuries are occurring because the bigger guys have a physical advantage.”
Simmons said he doesn’t have a feel for how owners will vote on the proposals, but he’s proceeding as if all three will be passed.
“The timing could have been a lot sooner,” he said. “We’re in the middle of Phase II (of Offseason Team Activities, or OTAs). We’re getting ready to start Phase III, and these won’t even be voted on until May 22. We’ll be in the middle of Phase III by the time it gets voted in or out.
“We’re going to practice a lot of those things now just to introduce it and anticipate it could go through,” he added. “If it doesn’t go through, we’re back to the old stuff everyone is accustomed to doing anyway.”