The NFL reportedly is planning a player safety summit for May 1-2, with kickoffs the focus of the meeting. The idea is to address how to make kickoffs safer … with the possibility of eliminating them altogether.
That news dovetails with what moves at last month’s NFL owners’ meetings, and it’s not a threat. It’s the reality of today’s game, where all levels are examining the kickoff as a means of making the sport safer.
The NCAA, for instance, just adopted a rule that allows returners to make fair catches inside the 25-yard line on kickoffs and have them considered touchbacks. The newly formed Alliance of American Football, which is scheduled to start play in 2019, announced it won’t have kickoffs, period. And those in and around last month’s NFL meetings insisted the league is serious about making significant changes to kickoffs to reduce the number of injuries.
But eliminate them?
“I do not think so,” said Rams’ special teams coordinator on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast.
Fassel is one of the best in the business and an assistant held in such high regard by the Rams that, when Jeff Fisher was fired in mid-season in 2016, it was Fassel who replaced him. And when Fisher’s replacement, Sean McVay was hired, it was Fassel who was retained. So consider him an authority on the subject of special teams in general and kickoffs specifically.
“Obviously I’m biased, so maybe that’s hope talking,” Fassel said. “But I do believe we’re heading to something that will make the kickoff adapt to something a little bit different. But I don’t see the elimination of it at all.”
Others do. In fact, the end of the kickoff already has been predicted. So the obvious question: Why doesn’t Fassel join the chorus? Or, better yet, why isn’t he reading the tea leaves that others are?
“I think traditionally, for however many years football has been played, it’s a critical part of the game,” he said of kickoffs. “Even if I wasn’t coaching special teams, I would think: How do you get rid of the kickoff? I mean, it starts the game. It starts the half. What do you do after a score? It’s a huge stage of the game.
“From a special teams coach’s and player’s perspective, there’s a ton of schematics, techniques and unique skills required to play on those phases of the game. And if you just cut those two phases out — if you cut out kickoffs, you’re cutting out kickoff returns — you’re also cutting out a lot of really unique football players that have certain skills that are really good for that phase of the game.
“I think, no doubt, it’s going down the road of: There’s got to be some adaptation to it. But I just can’t wrap my head around or fathom that that’s going to be taken away.”