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,” said Rich McKay, chairman of the league’s competition committee. “There was a 40 percent reduction in concussions on that play.”
The league repeatedly has said the change to kicking off from the 35-yard line was done solely for player safety. McKay said Monday at the owners meetings 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 was no Hall of Fame game last year because of the lockout.
Owners will vote this week to 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,” he 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 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.
McKay believes players and coaches are more comfortable now about adopting the postseason overtime rule requiring a team losing the coin toss to get a possession if the opponent kicks a field goal on the first series. That rule was passed in 2010, but has had no impact on a playoff game yet.
Originally, the committee believed it was easier to get the change adopted just for playoff games and the Super Bowl because “there was a distinction. In the postseason, you lose and you go home,” McKay said.
Now, the owners will vote on Pittsburgh’s proposal to use the same system in the regular season.
The Steelers would have benefited years ago from a change in the injured reserve rules being considered. A player hurt in preseason or the first week of the schedule could be designated to return to practice after six weeks and play after eight weeks rather than sit out the entire season. The idea is to keep marquee players who get hurt early available to return late in the season.
In 1995, Pittsburgh kept star defensive back Rod Woodson on the active roster after a major knee injury. Woodson came back to play in a Super Bowl loss to Dallas.
“Why not give that narrow flexibility?” McKay said. “We sent a survey to the teams and they wanted it very much.”
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.
The committee felt because reviewing a turnover will not cause a delay — the clock is stopped on such plays — it makes sense to look at them just like the way the league began reviewing touchdowns, field goals, extra points and safeties in 2011.
“The coaches will have a lot more challenges left in their pockets,” McKay said. “The majority of challenges were on scoring plays and turnovers prior to last year.”