Every year, the Competition Committee tinkers with this and that to come up with some new variation on the rule book. One of the big rule changes that we saw pass during the course of this offseason was the set the line of scrimmage for a touchback on kickoffs to the 25-yard line, rather than the 20.
The philosophy behind the change was to reduce the number of kicks that get returned, as well as the number of returned kicks that result in high-impact collisions with long running head starts, but many believe that the rule change will have more of the opposite effect.
That was the sense that Pat Kirwan recently presented to Art Rooney II, the president and co-owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, during a recent interview on Sirius radio. I have expressed a similar opinion multiple times already this offseason.
“Defensive-minded coaches don’t have a good feeling about giving up 25 yards”, Kirwan told Rooney after mentioning that he has spoken to coaches throughout the league about the new rule, and pointing out that Mike Tomlin is just such a defensive-minded coach.
“I’m anticipating that kickoffs that are one or two yards deep and they’re taking them out in the hope of getting them inside the 25, which will be the counter result of what they were looking for”, Kirwan concluded before allowing Rooney to answer.
“I wasn’t sure about this rule”, Rooney told Kirwan, adding, “I think it’s something where we’ll have to see what the impact of it is. The idea is to really cut down on the number of kickoffs where there is a lot of grass that guys are covering to run into each other, and that’s the problem”.
It is interesting to hear of Rooney’s reservations over the rule. He suggested instead that some other modifications may be better suited to what they hoped to achieve. “We may have to look at changing some of the rules on where guys can line up on kickoffs, things like that. I think we have some work to do there, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out this season”.
Kirwan then broached the subject that often follows such conversations, which is the under-riding sense among a certain segment of fans that the long-term intention is to do away with the kickoff altogether at some point.
“I hope not”, Rooney said. “That’s why I said I think we have to look at the play itself and making some changes to the play [to] maybe make it a little more like a punt, where most of the guys are closer to each other. They’re not running 30 yards and then running into each other. I think there are some things we can look at, and I think our Competition Committee is going to do that this year”.
I have already let my opinion be known on this topic, and I can’t imagine that the 25-yard touchback will be long in staying, because I believe that it will have the opposite of its intended effect in making the kickoff a safer play be reducing the number of kicks that get returned.