Yesterday the NFL passed a rule change to kick offs that would move where the ball is kicked from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line. The Jacksonville Jaguars were one of six NFL teams who voted "No" on the rule change. Three more teams would have needed to vote "No" for the rule to not pass. While Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee quipped "Thank you NFL for the rule change, moving kickoffs to the 35. It'll feel like college again! Bombs away!" on twitter when news came that the rule changed. The Jaguars are one of the teams who aren't very thrilled with the change, nor should they be.
The Jaguars have one of the best all around special teams units in the NFL. It's a unit that sent fullback Montell Owensto his first Pro Bowl as a special teams player and had perennial Pro Bowl special teamer Kassim Osgood as the alternate for Owens spot.
Along with moving the kick off point up 5-yards to the 35-yard line, players on the coverage team can only get a 5-yard running start now as opposed to the previous 15-yards, giving players a total of roughly 45-yards to build momentum. This change will actually put a premium on gunners and special teams aces, as the margin for error becomes larger as less ground is covered in the same amount of time. This area shouldn't be as much of a concern for the Jaguars, as they have a kicker who booms quite a few touchbacks as is, not to mention the Jaguars were one of the best coverage units in the NFL in 2010, ranking 8th in the NFL and 3rd in the AFC in opponents starting field position.
While it puts a premium on gunners, it also devalues kick returners. The number of touchbacks, which remain at the 20-yard line after a tweak in the proposal, will undoubtedly increase. This ultimately hurts teams like the Jaguars, who ranked 15th in the NFL and 8th in the AFC in average starting position (27.1). "It's definitely going to take away from some opportunities as far as guys being able to showcase that phase of the game," Montell Owens told Tania Ganguli of the Florida-Times Union.
As one would expect, Jaguars special teams coach Russ Purnell isn't pleased with the changes.
"I'm an old-timer, so I kind of like the way we got things going right now," Purnell said to the Time-Union before the vote passed. "I hope they don't pass the rule change, myself. I certainly understand player safety, I'm for player safety as much as anybody. And I haven't seen any of the data that they're talking about. ... You're going to eliminate a really, really exciting play; guys like Devin Hester and Percy Harvin and those great returners, you're going to be robbed of that."
The real players it effects the most however, are the players who make their bones as special teams specialists. "I was considered a wedge buster," Owens told the Times-Union. "That's how I kept my job. And I still keep my job. I remember, at the time, I sustained more concussions during the time in which the game allowed the four-man wedges than I do now." The four man wedge has since been outlawed and the NFL considered removing the two man wedge with this rule change, but like the modified touchback being placed at the 25, it was nixed from the proposal.
Players who are now primarily just special teamers will be harder and harder to justify keeping on the final roster, especially if they don't also offer something depth wise on the offensive or defensive side of the ball. Players like Scottie McGee, who spent his rookie season on injured reserve, will have to showcase special (no pun) ability in the return game to warrant a position on the roster because they don't really offer much on the football field. It will also mean teams like the Seattle Seahawks might be ticked at investments they've put in players like Leon Washington. While Washington is one of the NFL's best kick returners, how often will he get a chance to return now?