NFL owners approved new rules for kickoffs and replays at their annual spring meetings today in New Orleans. Kickoffs will now be placed at the 35-yard line, up from the 30, out of concern for an increase in injuries on kickoff returns, mostly to the players on the coverage teams.
Touchbacks will continue to be placed at the receiving team's 20-yard line. The competition committee initially planned to have touchbacks at the 25, but several coaches voiced opposition to the move. In addition to moving the kickoffs up, all players except the kicker must now stand no more than five yards behind the ball.
The use of the two-man wedge was retained. In the original wording of the rules change, all wedges were removed. However, several coaches lobbied to retain the two-man wedge, and it was written into the rule.
Moving the kickoffs up to the 35 is likely to increase touchbacks, although some teams might opt to have their kickers pop the ball higher in the air in an attempt to pin teams further back in their own territory.
"I can see [touchbacks] doubling from last year," Cardinals kicker Jay Feely, who formerly played for the Jets and Giants, told Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic. "If you take kicks that were 3 to 5 yards deep last year, now they are eight to 10 yards deep and will not returned. It's possible though that returners will take more chances."
Feely addd: "Personally, I’m very happy about it. I think all the veteran kickers are happy about it. I do think it will definitely take some excitement out of the game. It eliminates good returns from guys like LaRod (Stephens-Howling), Devin
Kickoffs were moved from the 35 to the 30 in 1994 after a gradual decrease in kickoff returns. When kickoffs were moved back in '94, the percentage of kickoffs returned went from 68.4 in '93 to 88.4 percent in '94. Last year, 80.1 percent of all kickoffs were returned.
The number of touchdowns also increased dramatically when kickoffs were moved back. In 1993, there were only four kickoffs returned for touchdowns; the next year, there were 16. Last season, 23 kickoffs were returned for touchdowns.
Owners also voted to allow automatic replay of all scoring plays, without a challenge from a coach. This expands the use of booth review beyond the final two minutes of each half and during overtime. In addition, the rule that gives coaches a third challenge if he is correct on his first two challenges was retained. The rules proposal initially took away the third challenge, but was amended before the vote.