NFL owners agree to new rule on kickoffs

March 22, 2011|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

NEW ORLEANS — — Moving kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35 marked the biggest rule change at this year's NFL owners meetings.

Before the proposal could pass, touchbacks had to remain spotted at the 20-yard line. The competition committee had suggested moving touchbacks to the 25, which drew some opposition.

This rule change — which is supposed to decrease injuries — will reduce the number of kickoff returns and lessen the impact of kickoff returners. The Ravens were among the 26 teams that voted in favor of the proposal.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he was in favor of keeping touchbacks at the 20-yard line and bringing back the two-man wedge (which also passed) to help protect returners. But moving kickoffs up 5 yards negates the advantage of a strong-legged kicker like Billy Cundiff, whose 40 touchbacks from the 30-yard line last season broke a league record.

"We can live with the ball at the 35-yard line, although to me that doesn't help our football team," Harbaugh said. "Without question, I'd rather it all stay the same."

Said Cundiff: "Obviously, I'm excited. It's the first time they made a rule that benefits a kicker. [But] fans don't like to see kickers kick the ball into the end zone all the time for touchbacks."

The other change in the kickoff rule was limiting coverage players to a 5-yard running start. Under the old rule, players could get a 10- to 15-yard start before the kicker makes contact with the ball.

Other rule changes were:

• All scoring plays are reviewable by instant replay without a challenge from a coach. This expands the use of booth review beyond the final two minutes of each half and during overtime. This proposal passed by a 30-2 vote.

"There's a real big competitive disadvantage on the road as a coach," Harbaugh said. "Having experienced that, if they don't give you that shot and it's a scoring play and you don't get to look at it. Then your fans are really mad. I didn't see it because they didn't show it. There are plenty of plays where you don't get to see it."

Harbaugh added, "I think it will actually speed it up because the official will have access to the replay right away. I think it's going to clean up the game."

• Changing a stadium's field color now requires league approval. While no team had inquired about playing on a blue or red field, the NFL wanted to prevent teams from doing so without consent.

Landry has decision to make

If Dawan Landry becomes an unrestricted free agent, it'll be interesting to see how the Ravens address their strong safety position. It could be difficult to pay Landry when the Ravens already have Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura under contract.

"Dawan wants to be a Raven and we want him to be a Raven," Harbaugh said. "The economics is something he'll have to decide on, but the opportunities are going to be there. In this market, how's it going to go?"

Ayanbadejo returning to form

Special teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo should make a bigger impact now that he is a couple of years removed from tearing his quadriceps, Harbaugh said. Ayanbadejo, who injured his leg in October 2009, missed the first six games of last season because he was still recovering.

"I don't think he was ever back to his old form last year, but he got better," Harbaugh said. "With another good offseason, he's kind of back to form. The thing about Brendon is … he's really fast. The guy runs a 4.5 still and he takes care of himself. He's going to be a big part of our team, injuries notwithstanding next year."

Zbikowski to fight former cagefighting champion

Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski is scheduled to fight Caleb "True Grit" Grummet in Atlantic City on Saturday.

Grummet, 29, has fought only one professional boxing match — which ended in a draw — but he is a former Xtreme Cagefighting Middleweight champion in mixed martial arts.

Zbikowski is 2-0 as a professional boxer, recording first-round knockouts both times. This is his second fight since the NFL lockout began.

Tickets, priced at $200, $100, $50, are available at the Boardwalk Hall Box Office or by calling Ticketmaster at 800-736-1420 or online at ticketmaster.com.

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jamisonhensley

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