One thing that has been missing from NFL games this year is the excitement of kickoff returns. Gone is that feeling that anything can happen and probably will, and inserted in its place is the dreadful reality that the ball is probably going to end up getting hammered out of the endzone for a touchback. The rule change has definitely taken the spontaneity out of the play, and while it is all for a good cause -- preventing head trauma (count me in) -- it still reeks a bit of sissification (new word, bear with me).
I though Josh Cribb's interview with Jim Rome was pretty revealing about the mindset of NFL kick returners with regard to the new rules (click play above to listen). Turns out that they'd rather take their chances, risk the injury, and make the play exciting. I'm sure most fans agree, but as they say in sports-jargon "It is what it is."
Cribbs, who holds the all time NFL record with 8 kickoff returns for touchdowns, also gave some insight into the new challenges facing returners. When do you take it out of the endzone, and why?
While the new rules (in addition to moving the kick up 5 yards, defenders are only allowed 5 yard run-up, where they previously had 15) may be slowing some returners, Cribbs has still held his own, averaging over 34 yards per return, and knocking off a long of 52.
After three weeks there have been three kicks returned for TD's and 16 returns of 40+ yards.
In 2010 there were 23 kicks returned for TD's and 114 returns of 40+ yards.