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Succop: Unsure touchback rule will have desired effect

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Perhaps the most interesting change to come from the NFL's Annual League Meeting this week in Florida was moving the touchback to the 25-yard line.

Motivated by player safety, the move was made in an effort to try and induce more touchbacks. The reality might be that the new rule actually incentivizes teams kicking short of the end zone and trying to pin opponents deep, leading to more kickoffs -- thus more potential for injury.

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Tennessee Titans kicker Ryan Succop believes you'll see more of what some have referred to as "mortar kicks."

"Time will tell. But I can see where if you have a kicker who has good hang time in the 4.3, 4.4, or 4.5 range, that special teams coach is going to try and have him kick the ball high and short and pin teams, rather than kicking a touchback and allowing a team to start at the 25-yard line," Succop told TitansInsider.com. "I'm sure that the people in the league who are behind this rule have researched it and believe that it will lead to more touchbacks or whatever, but time will tell if that happens."

Competition Committee Chairman Rich McKay acknowledged the chance that the rule could lead to more returns, but didn't sound too concerned.

"We passed that also for one year because we do want to see if it changes the numbers and how it impacts the game because there is that thought that there will be some more short kicks. We'll see," McKay said this week.

The NFL is banking on those "mortar kicks" being more difficult in practice than they sound in theory. Colts kicker Pat McAfee agrees.

"From a ball kicker's perspective this is going to heighten the touchback percentages league wide," McAfee told ESPN. "I assume some teams will strategize and attempt to kick the ball higher and shorter but I just don't know if it'll work out especially with how explosive returners are nowadays. My prediction is that the second half of the season you'll see an unprecedented amount of returners taking a knee on basically every kickoff."

For some teams, like the New Orleans Saints, who struggled with kick returns, the prospect of starting on the 25-yard line is intriguing.

"Selfishly, it helps us," coach Sean Payton said Thursday on The Dan Patrick Show. "We're one of those clubs that I would say would be average to below average kick return team, but above average (on) offense."

While the move might help improve scoring slightly, if injuries escalate at all, expect the NFL to revert back to the 20-yard line in 2017.

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