Paul Dehner Jr., firstname.lastname@example.org
Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons doesn’t like when he hears certain phrases thrown around by those around the NFL regarding how the game is played.
Right now, he’s hearing many uncomfortable words about the kickoff. Primarily, discussion of it going away in the near future.
“The problem is those words have been thrown out there,” said Simmons, who enters his 16th season coaching the Bengals’ special teams. “That’s the scary part. Everybody recognizes the fact football in general is a contact sport, that’s the root of what it is. Are there going to be injuries? Yeah. Are there ways to reduce some of those? That’s what we are trying to talk through without changing the integrity of the play and the game.
Simmons will be far from alone Wednesday. He’s among a select group of coaches, former players, league officials and even owners gathering in New York to figure out the future of play amid the pressure of safety concerns.
He returns Thursday morning.
A report from ESPN stated Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy, through the competition committee, pointed to statistics gathered by the NFL that stated concussions were five times more likely to occur on a kickoff than any other play.
NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent said Tuesday the kickoff will not be taken out of the game in 2018.
But, obviously, an urgency to make changes bubbled to the surface over the course of the last few months. The league surprised everyone by saying they would insert a rule punishing players for lowering their head and using the helmet as a weapon in any aspect of the game. Specifics of that rule and execution of penalizing it will also be discussed during this safety summit.
But much of it will be about special teams and, specifically, the kickoff.
Simmons and other coaches have spent hours on conference calls in recent weeks talking through possibilities. Those have included taking the bigger, wedge players out of the play. The new college rule which states any player can signal for a fair catch inside the 25-yard line and ball will be brought out to the 25 was also discussed. Simmons came out against the concept under the tent of one change in the rule causing an even worse scenario.
“They are going to squib it,” Simmons said. “That’s just going to become ugly football. Like the scramble punt you have in college with the ball bouncing around all over the place.”
As everyone takes their turn speaking during these meetings at NFL headquarters, Simmons just wants to see the integrity of the game salvaged. While people will talk about going from A to Z, he’d rather focus on going from A to M and let the play evolve over time.
Along with everyone taking part in this session, there is no shortage of curiosity to see where this lands.
“Some of these suggestions, hopefully they do go through, I think they are going to be changes but not outlandish changes to the play,” Simmons said. “It’s been a play since the beginning of football. We still want to keep it that way. It’s still going to be an exciting play without making a mockery of what the play and game is meant to be.”
If the conversation of taking the play away gains momentum Wednesday, however, he can’t help but wonder if that won’t be starting down a slippery slope.
“If you take the kickoff away, what’s next?” Simmons said. “Are we going to say that, all right, on fourth-and-15 you can’t throw down the middle of the field to a tight end in the seam because the safety can come hit him and that’s dangerous? Take one play away, what do they go to next?”