New kickoff rules are winning few fans among players, coaches

One of the most significant NFL rule changes in years is already provoking strong opinions after just one week of preseason games.

"I don't like it," Lions receiver Rashied Davis told the Detroit Free Press. "I'm just going to tell you the truth. I hate it."

"The five-yard start is awful," linebacker Isaiah Ekejiuba told the paper. "Awful."

"I understand it, but I don't necessarily like it," echoed return man Stefan Logan.

In an effort to limit injuries, NFL owners voted in March to move kickoffs up five yards to the 35-yard line and restrict the running start that coverage units get to five yards behind the ball. The change is expected to greatly increase the number of touchbacks, leaving many players and fans concerned about losing one of the most exciting plays in the game.

Last season, about 16 percent of kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. In the first week of the 2011 preseason, that number rose to 33 percent, and might have been even higher except for the fact that some coaches were instructing their kickers to avoid touchbacks so that coverage teams could get some work in.

"We're going to get more touchbacks," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "It's not just the ability to move up five yards, but coverage groups are five yards closer to it. I think it's going to accomplish what the league hoped to accomplish, which is provide more touchbacks."

Logan said he expects about 25 percent fewer kick-return opportunities.

"I'm on both sides," Logan said. "I'm on the kickoff coverage and I'm on kickoff return, so it benefits me in a good way. But it takes away some stuff in a bad way."

Cleveland Browns wide receiver/kick returner Josh Cribbs, one of the league's most electrifying return men, wasted no time voicing his opinion.

"I see an immediate amendment on the kickoff rule either (before) the end of the year or beginning of next year (because) without that part of the return game, it might as well be a scrimmage," Cribbs wrote on Twitter after watching Thursday night's opening preseason games.

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh is not a fan of the new rule, either.

"If you look at the Eagles-Ravens preseason game, it was just a yawner," Harbaugh told The Baltimore Sun. "I wasn't very impressed with it the first week."

In the Ravens' preseason opener at Philadelphia, six of the seven kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.

"We've done a lot of homework on that and what causes the concussions in our building," Harbaugh told The Sun. "So, we'll be looking forward to the offseason and share some of that with the competition committee."

Harbaugh said Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff would not be aiming for the end zone Friday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

"We're going to have to punch it down there because we need to train our guys to cover kicks," Harbaugh said. "We're not going to go through the whole season kicking touchbacks. That would be foolish.

"When you're coming from the 35-yard line, you are on top of that returner. It is scary how fast you can be on top of that returner. So, I think teams are going to try to pop it up inside the 10 and see if they can go smash the returner inside the 15. That will definitely be a strategy."

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