Last week, former NFL special-teams coach Mike Westhoff complained about the movement of the kickoff point back to the 35.
But unlikely some (i.e., me) who’ll make a complaint without offering a solution, Westhoff offered this proposal: Kick the ball from the 25, limit all 11 members of the kicking team to no more than five yards for a running start, and mandate the placement of eight of the 11 members of the return team within 10 and 20 yards of the kickoff point.
Peter King of TheMMQB.com reports that the Competition Committee will at least consider the idea, which could cut down on the high-speed collisions that can cause serious head and neck injuries.
But the rule has no chance of being adopted absent proof that the risk of injury will be no greater than the current arrangement. The rule was changed to make the kickoff play safer; the league won’t change it to anything else if there’s a risk it will be more dangerous.
The league still hasn’t completely shelved the idea of getting rid of the kickoff completely, with Commissioner Roger Goodell floating last year the possibility of replacing the kickoff with the team that would be kicking off facing fourth down and 15 from its own 40, with the option of punting or trying to gain 15 yards to keep possession.
Regardless, safety has supplanted all other concerns on this issue, including Westhoff’s worry that the league’s diminished emphasis on special teams will prevent the rise of another John Harbaugh, who had been a special-teams coordinator in Philly for years before spending one season as a defensive backs coach, before being hired by Baltimore.
But it’s a zero-sum game. For every assistant who won’t climb the ladder via special teams, some other assistant will climb the ladder another way. And the next Harbaugh will realize that the circumstances have changed, and he’ll adjust his strategy toward a path more likely to make it to the top of the profession in an age where there’s a limited way to get noticed based on how an assistant coach handles kickoffs and kick returns.