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NFL Changes Rules With Kickoffs, Replays

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At the NFL owners meetings down in New Orleans on Tuesday, votes were held on a number of proposed rule changes. The proposals that were actually voted on were passed, and they will bring changes to kickoffs, replays and whether or not teams can have fields a color other than green.

The original proposal for kickoffs was to move them up to the 35 and put the ball on the 25 for touchbacks. The proposal that was actually presented to the owners and passed by a 26-6 margin moves kickoffs to the 35 but keeps touchbacks at the 20. The proposal also forces the players that cover kickoffs to line up between the 30 and 35, preventing long head starts.

The changes involving kickoffs were made for one reason: to lessen the amount of kick returns and in turn lessen the chance for players to get injured. Touchbacks will certainly go up with kickoffs coming from the 35, and with touchbacks staying at the 20 there is no incentive to hang the ball up; kickers will aim to just boot the ball out of the end zone more often than not. This is also likely going to be the case because the kickoff coverage unit will have less of a head start. Covering kicks won't be quite as easy in that regard, so the best strategy for kickers seems to be putting the ball out of the end zone.

What this means next season is that players like Stefan Logan will have their role reduced greatly on kickoffs. The same is also true for guys like Isaiah Ekejiuba, who earn spots on the team because of their skills on special teams coverage. With less kicks expected to be returned, it's possible there could be less incentive to keep good special teams players around. They will still be needed for punt coverage, but players that are really excellent at covering kicks could see their chances of making the team drop.

Moving on to the changes involving replay, the owners voted 30-2 in favor of passing the proposal that will allow all scoring plays to be reviewed. This change actually came about in part because of a play from the Lions' game against the Cowboys last season. Dallas scored on a 97-yard punt return, but it looked like the returner may have stepped out of bounds. Jim Schwartz and company didn't get a good look at a replay of the return in time to challenge it, so there was no review. Next year, the review would come from the booth rather than a challenge, making sure all questionable scoring plays are looked at regardless of how much time is left or how many challenges a team has.

Speaking of challenges, the rule that gives coaches a third challenge if they win the first two is still in place. There was some talk that it may be done away with because it has been rarely used, but that did not happen. I didn't understand the thinking behind taking it away just because it was rare, so I'm glad it will still be around next season.

The other rule change that was passed involves the color of fields.

One proposal was adopted unanimously, giving the commissioner the power to approve or deny requests to change the color of the playing field from green. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank said the concern was that sponsors could approach teams and suggest a deal that involved altering a field's color.

The proposals involving expanding the definition of a defenseless player and outlawing players from launching to make hits were both tabled. They are expected to be brought back up at the league's May meetings.