NFL Softens Brutal Proving Ground: Kickoffs
Rule change expected to cut back on number of violent returns
By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 3, 2011 7:17 AM CDT
New England Patriots Christian Cox, top, and Matthew Slater (18) stop New York Giants' Devin Thomas (15) during a kickoff return.   (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
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(Newser) – Under fire for concussions and player safety, the NFL is pushing kickoffs five yards closer to the opposing end zone, a move that will mean more touchbacks and fewer returns, one of the most exciting plays in the game—and one of the most violent. Plenty of players and fans aren't happy, saying that kickoff teams are a vital proving ground for young players, reports the Wall Street Journal. "It's definitely a violent play, but I wouldn't change anything," says Quintin Mikell, a safety with the St. Louis Rams. "That's one of the only ways you can show your true defensive ability."

The kickoff point was moved five yards out in 1994 to make the game more exciting, and it worked, raising kickoff returns 48% to eight per game within two years. Since then, about three dozen players have made the Pro Bowl after working their way up from special teams. But with kickoff returns already dropping 31% this preseason compared to last year, players worry that an important part of the game will disappear. "The kickoff is one of the most exciting plays in football," says the Baltimore Ravens' Haruki Nakamura, who once had his ankle shattered in a violent kickoff collision. "I think the new rule is actually kind of ridiculous."
 

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