The NFL has just announced a couple new changes to their rulebook. Kickoffs have been moved from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line (with touchbacks remaining at the 20-yard line). The’ve also allowed the replay booth to review all questionable scoring plays without challenges from coaches.
In 1994, the league moved the kickoffs to the 30-yard line to help inject excitement to the kickoffs. The change to the new kickoff rule will surely handicap all NFL teams, especially those who have great return specialists. For the 49ers, they will fall into that category.
The 49ers voted in favor of the rule change, but I am not so sure that the new change will benefit them much. Could the struggles of the special teams over the past few seasons be the reason why the 49ers were in favor of this rule change?
There will now be less focus on having a kickoff specialist since kickers will have an extra five yards to work with on getting the ball into the endzone for a touchback.
Being a kickoff specialist was what helped 49ers kicker Joe Nedney get into the NFL.
“That move to the 30 is kind of what got me into the NFL,” said Nedney to the Sacramento Bee. “It invented the kickoff specialist.”
This rule change could be the NFL’s attempt to limit potential injuries on kickoff returns. The 49ers had wide receiver Dominique Zeigler, cornerbacks Will James and Phillip Adams all fell to injuries on kickoff duties. With the current state of head injuries becoming a problem within the league, this might help lessen the chances of more serious injuries.
Ted Ginn was the team’s return specialist last year and brought a much-needed boost to the special teams. Ranked as one of the worst special teams units in 2009, Ginn helped bring to the 49ers a legitimate threat on returns.
Last year, Ginn averaged 21.1 yards on 47 returns last year. The new rule change would likely increase the chance of touchbacks, eliminating Ginn’s opportunities for a big return. And with the 49ers still in the works of trying to find an offensive identity, getting as many yards as possible on kick returns will be a vital asset to the offense.
Moving the kickoff spot to the 35-yard line also means that teams recovering an onside kick will be closer to the endzone. Time and yards are precious for teams attempting an onside kick. Given the extra five yards they get in possible field position, it might make a huge difference late in games.
Last year under Mike Singletary, the 49ers had a very tough time managing timeouts and challenges during games. With the new rule on scoring plays, 49ers will at least have one less situation to worry about on challenges. It will beone less thing for new head coach Jim Harbaugh to worry about as he transitions to the NFL.