If we ever get to the point where there's NFL football again - and not the labor fight currently dominating the league and the players - there could be a significant rules change ahead. NFL owners are expected to pass a measure next week that would move kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35 as a way to reduce injuries.
Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay, president of the Falcons, told reporters on a conference call this morning that his eight-member committee unanimously approved a rules change proposal to "shorten the field" in a bid to reduce injuries on kickoffs.
"The play is such and injury data is such that it needs revision," McKay said. "The biggest thing you're getting out of it is shortening the field. Hopefully that will help [reduce injuries]."
The NFL moved kickoffs to the 30 from the 35 in 1994 in a bid to increase kickoff returns after a period where touchbacks had increased steadily. The new rule may very well increase touchbacks, but McKay believes it will also reduce how far and how fast players travel - particularly on the kicking team - and thus reduce injuries.
As part of the rules proposal, no member of the kicking team would be permitted to line up more than five yards behind the spot of the kickoff. Currently, there is no limitation, and McKay said some players get as much as a 15-yard running start before the ball is kicked.
In addition, touchbacks would be moved to the 25-yard line. Currently, the ball is spotted at the 20 after a touchback. Kickoffs that go out of bounds would result in a penalty, but the ball would still go to the receiving team's 40-yard line.
The rule will also entirely eliminate wedge blocking. Last year, the league reduced the wedge to a maximum of two players who could stand side-by-side and block. Now, the wedge will be taken out entirely.