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Moving kickoffs helped reduce player concussions, McKay says

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Moving kickoffs up 5 yards last season did exactly what the NFL sought, reducing concussions.

"The kickoff rule had an effect on the game," Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, chairman of the league's competition committee, said Monday at the NFL Annual Meeting. "There was a 40 percent reduction in concussions on that play."

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The league repeatedly has said the change to kicking off from the 35-yard line was done solely for player safety. McKay said it served that purpose, but he admitted surprise that total kickoff returns dropped 53 percent.

For all plays, concussions were down 12.5 percent, from 218 in 321 games in 2010 to 190 in 320 games last season. There wasn't a Hall of Fame Game last year because of the player lockout.

Owners will vote this week to further enhance player safety by outlawing horse-collar tackles on passers in the pocket, a proposal made by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"There was a lot of talk about quarterback injuries," McKay said. "We watched every play where the quarterback was hurt. We looked at every roughing-the-passer penalty, 100-plus, and we were comfortable that the quarterback is being protected adequately."

Owners also will consider expanding protection of defenseless players to those who are hit by crackback blocks. The proposal calls for outlawing contact to the head area or being blocked by an opponent headfirst.

"We saw some hits we wanted to make sure that players changed their hit points on," McKay said.

Notes: McKay believes players and coaches now are more comfortable about adopting the playoff overtime rules, which require a team losing the coin toss to have a possession if the opponent kicks a field goal on the first series. Owners will vote this week on the Steelers' proposal to use the same system during the regular season. ... Also being considered is a change in the injured reserve rules. A player hurt in preseason or the first week of the regular season could be designated to return to practice after six weeks and play after eight weeks rather than sit out the entire season. ... Instant replay also could see two significant changes: booth replay officials reviewing plays rather than referees, and all turnovers being reviewed, just as all scoring plays currently are reviewed.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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