The Miami Dolphins have one of the most respected special teams coaches in the NFL, Darren Rizzi, and so it was no surprise that he was among those invited to an important league meeting about kickoff safety in New York on Wednesday.
Among the changes recommended by a panel including owners, head coaches, position coaches, medical experts and a current player and union official:
• No running start or pre-kick motion by cover teams
• No wedge blocks by return squads
• A 15-yard, non-contact zone from the spot of the kick, with the return team required to have a minimum of eight players lined up 15 yards from the ball
The NFL is trying to make the kickoff play more similar to a punt play, which is generally considered safer. A vote could soon put the rules in place for the 2018 season.
According to a report by Jim Trotter of NFL.com, Packers president Mark Murphy said the kickoff is on a “short leash.”
Murphy told NFL.com the data shows that players are five times more likely to sustain a concussion on kickoffs than a play from scrimmage. Competition committee chairman Rich McKay said players sustained 71 concussions on kickoffs the last three seasons, with at least a third stemming from wedge plays.
Rizzi was also quoted in the NFL.com report.
“Sometimes there’s a perception that special teams coaches are only concerned about keeping the kickoff to keep our job,” Rizzi said. “This wasn’t about that. It was about making the game safer, making the play safer and not taking the foot out of football. It’s easy for the coaches to be stubborn and say, ‘Oh, keep it the way it is.’ In my opinion those days are over. We have to keep moving forward, not just this year but every year. We have to keep asking, ‘What can we tweak this year? What can we improve?’ The whole collaboration by the whole room was pretty cool.”
Former Dolphins safety Michael Thomas has been among the NFL players taking to social media with pleas to save the kickoff.