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Hester, Bears want to kick proposed rule changes to curb

Devin Hester and the Chicago Bears, including his coach, don't want to see big changes to the NFL's kickoff rules.

The NFL Competition Committee met Monday in New Orleans to propose a host of rules changes, one of which is a plan to move kickoffs up to the 35-yard line from the 30. The theory is that the shorter distance will lead to more touchbacks, which will cut down on the violent impacts that lead to injuries for special-teams players.

Hester, 28, is a key weapon in Chicago's attack, using his speed and elusiveness to create game-changing plays. Hester has an NFL-record 14 kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns since entering the league in 2006.

"I see the NFL is trying to take the kickoff game out," Hester tweeted Sunday. "They already punt out of bounds. What's next?"

Coach Lovie Smith also expressed his displeasure during Tuesday morning's coaches breakfast at the NFL Annual Meetings in New Orleans, the *Chicago Tribune* reported.

"I can't believe we're even talking about that," Smith said. "It's the most exciting play in the game. We're totally against the rule. We don't even get into the conversation. How do we get to this point?"

The coach is particularly against the part of the proposal that would move the kickoff up to the 35-yard line.

"I know we're talking about players' safety, but I don't know that it's making it safer," he said. "You can say that about every pass play."

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo told the *Chicago Sun-Times* that the opposition to the potential change goes beyond his team's interests.

"It's not just because of Devin Hester," Angelo said. "It's because it's one of the most exciting plays in football."

Bears president Ted Phillips said the team will listen to the committee's pitch on the rule change but doesn't expect to get behind it.

"With our return game being such a big part of our offense, I would tend to think we would vote against it," Phillips told the *Chicago Tribune* on Sunday. "There are some aspects to the proposal, including the elimination of the two-man wedge and having all the players except the kicker no more than 5 yards behind the ball, that would be more acceptable than moving the kickoff to the 35."

NFL owners will vote on the proposal Tuesday.

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