RedEye

Bears, fans biggest losers with new kickoff rules

I agree with Devin Hester. This is ridiculous.

The NFL voting to move kickoffs up to the 35-yard line makes more than Bears games less exciting. It sucks the drama out of the most unpredictable play of the game for every team and everybody who loves America's most popular sport.

The Bears rely on field position and kickoff returns more than most offenses so naturally they are among the most affected. Lovie Smith reacted like somebody made fun of Big Sandy. Seldom have I heard Smith sound that animated opposing something that wasn't a creation of the media.

Smith knows this puts even more pressure on his offense, and he has been in Chicago long enough to know what that traditionally means. Jay Cutler became even more important, the offensive line even a bigger concern. The rule change magnifies every concern the Bears had about their biggest weakness.

Smith routinely invokes the need for all three phases. The third phase was the method the Bears used to keep up with the Packers. Now? It's more like the need to perform all 2 2/3 phases. It's a subtle but significant difference.

But do you know who I really feel for? It's not Hester, Danieal Manning or Johnny Knox. It's not the guys with open-field running skills. The Bears can find ways to incorporate Hester more in the slot as their No. 3 receiver that fits him and Knox can concentrate more on getting open. They have speed and ability that always will make them roster locks.

The guys I pity are the guys who make the team based on their coverage skills, the kamikaze players who run down on kickoffs with reckless abandon. The Tim Shaws and Cameron Worrells of Bears seasons past. Those guys just got even fewer plays in which to make an impression or an impact.

It's bad for them. It's worse for the fans.

The league wants to preserve safety. A presentation pointed out that players are four times more likely to have head and neck injuries on kickoffs than any other play. I get it. The cynic in me also wonders if the owners were more motivated to make this show in the name of safety to show concern not evident in proposals for an 18-game season.

But the game just got duller. And the Bears just got worse.

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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