A lot has been made of this change in the kickoff rules, mainly by those that think the game will “inherently” change because of this. I am not so sure we are looking at a doomsday scenario like that. Rather, I do feel that limiting the full speed collisions over the season will in fact reduce the chances of concussions in that particular “subset” of the game.
I must admit that while tracking the concussions in the NFL last season specific plays and situations were not part of data collection. However, it is empirically noted that the full speed nature over great distance have resulted in many concussions. There have been a variety of stories about players getting drilled during special teams. In fact, most of the “journeyman” that appear on the concussed list sustained those injuries during that phase of the game. The specific nuances of the rule were described by Rich McKay in New Orleans;
Playing Rule Proposal No. 2 was the kickoff. That rule passed and ended up in a form we called Playing Rule Proposal No. 2A. 2A ended up having the following elements: the kickoff will be from the 35-yard line; the touchback will be at the 20-yard line; the out-of-bounds penalty will move the ball as it always has to the 40; and the rule otherwise will remain the same. The two-man wedge would be allowed; the three-man wedge would be prohibited. That is the change to the kickoff. That was rule proposal 2A. The five-yard restraining line applies. Players (on the kicking team) must line up at the 30 and no further back than that.
Knowing the exact extent of concussions on a kickoff would be costly and painstaking for me to do, but looking at some reports during the season I could narrow down 10 incidents that happened as the first play of the game/half (kickoff) or were reported as happening on a kickoff; I tend to believe that is a low number but a solid one. If there is 10-15% less run backs that COULD have eliminated 1-2 cases of concussions, which has merit in my book. Also buried in the headlines is that the kickoff team will have a five yard restraining line to run from, thus theoretically reducing the speed at which collisions occur. Again taking physics into consideration this would equate to less force and thus be another protective measure.
At the end of the presser transcript I was intrigued to also see McKay respond to questions about concussion in particular;
On impact of changes in policies on concussions:
As a person working at a team, I would say that I have seen a cultural shift on the concussion side, all for the better. I think that player to player accountability, in players going over and talking to other players about whether they are concussed, I think players self reporting, players reporting at practice, all of that has really moved in the right direction. The old mentality of ‘I am tougher than that, I just got dinged, I can keep going’ – I think we have moved past that in a real fast way. That is all for the good. For us as a committee, the emphasis and the focus has been a big part of what we discuss a lot. What we have tried to do is come up with rules and make sure we stay focused on taking the helmet-to-helmet hits out of the game to the extent we can. It is not a perfect world. You are still going to have some. But to the extent we can. When that player is in a very vulnerable place, we stay focused on that. Culturally, I think anybody that works for any team, any coach, would tell you that it has changed. I think it will continue to change as the whole emphasis of it gets pushed down to college and into high school. My son is graduating from high school this year, and I know when you look at his football team, the emphasis on concussions is unreal. And that is great – it is where it should be.
And more-so was the answer to the question about an increase of reported concussions;
Do we see more reported? Yes. Do we expect to see more reported? Yes, because of the cultural change.
This should resonate with the audience, expect for there to be an increase in concussions once again, but do not over react. One of the main reasons we are experiencing this sudden “crisis” is the fact that awareness and education about the injury is spreading. The stigma that was “my bell was rung” is leaving the game, resulting in players doing the right thing and reporting the injury. Until the stigma is complete erased (see Hines Ward) we will not know the full extent of this injury. Finally on this note, the injury of concussion is not the overall issue here, it is how it has and will be managed that will prevent the most debilitating effects of concussion.
In conclusion, those that yearn for the Devin Hester’s and Josh Cribbs’s of the league to run free on every kick off, there are non-stars that will be protected and play football longer because of the rule change. Now if the NFL would expand the rosters slightly perhaps that would allow some of the journeyman to speak up, right Ward?