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NFL players don't want kickoffs to get the boot

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NFL players don't want kickoffs to get the boot

DENVER (AP) The eight teams left in the NFL playoffs can thank their special teams for a good part of their success. That's one reason players are still upset Commissioner Roger Goodell has floated the idea of abolishing kickoffs altogether.

Baltimore Ravens return specialist Jacoby Jones, who returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season, said if the league gets rid of the electrifying plays, ``I'm going to retire. I will go (ballistic). ... If they take out kickoffs, they're going to hate me in this league.''

The idea is only a suggestion, one Goodell says the league will consider in the offseason for safety reasons, but players are vehemently opposed to such a radical change they contend would shake the foundation of America's most popular sport.

``I haven't found anybody that likes the idea, because, first of all, the sport is called football, so you can't keep taking the foot part of it out,'' Denver Broncos punter Britton Colquitt said. ``It would also be really confusing if they were like, `Stay tuned for kickoff,' and there was no kickoff, you know? What are they going to say, `Stay tuned for the start of the game'?

``Boooring!''

Abolishing kickoffs would also eliminate the onside kick as an option - like the one the New Orleans Saints used to turn the tide against the Indianapolis Colts coming out of halftime in the Super Bowl three years ago - and it would prune some pizazz from the game, like Desmond Howard's kickoff return for a touchdown that gave Brett Favre his only championship ring in the mid-1990s.

Of the 13 kickoff-return TDs this season, seven came from teams that reached the playoffs as the Ravens, Colts, Patriots, Broncos, Seahawks and Vikings all sported resumes that boasted at least one of the backbreakers.

Players say rules changes like banning the blocking wedge, moving the kickoff up five yards and limiting the number of players who can line up on one side of the ball for an onside kick have already lessened the number of violent collisions in games and they wonder if messing with the kickoffs is simply going too far.

``If you've got to do something about it, if you still feel like it's injuries, then move it up to the 40 and then it's like 99 percent of the time it's going to be a touchback,'' Colquitt suggested.

That way, the onside kick would still be an option.

``But you even see the returners, they're returning the ball from deeper in the end zone than they used to because they want to return it,'' Colquitt said. ``They're not out there in fear for their life, they're not saying, `I don't want to do this.'''

Indeed, there were eight 100-yard kickoff-return touchdowns in 2012, the most of any season in NFL history.

``Bringing one out, how is that unsafe? It's football,'' Jones said. ``Everybody doesn't take them out from 8 yards deep, but I take my chances because I have fun. And I have guys in front of me that do a heck of a job blocking. We take care of each other and roll with the punches.''

The NFL has made safety a top priority in recent years as it faces lawsuits by thousands of former players who say the league withheld information on the harmful effects of concussions. According to an AP review of 175 lawsuits, 3,818 players have filed suit. At least 26 Hall of Famers are among the players who have done so.

Two years ago, the league moved the kickoff from the 30 to the 35-yard line to cut down on violent collisions, and that has resulted in far more touchbacks and, the league says, a lot fewer head injuries.

The average number of kickoff returns since the rule change has fallen to 1,385 a season from about 2,100 per year before the change, according to STATS LLC.

``We continue to look for other ways to take the head out of the game,'' Goodell said in a recent speech at Harvard. ``Two years ago we moved the kickoff line five yards forward to the 35. That reform yielded real benefits - a 40 percent reduction in concussions last year on kickoffs. College football then adopted our rule. Some think that the kickoff, the play with the highest injury rate, should be eliminated from the game or modified even further.''

Tampa Bay first-year coach Greg Schiano suggested to Goodell that instead of kickoffs, teams would have the option of punting from the 30-yard line or going for a first down in a fourth-and-15 situation. Schiano witnessed one of his players at Rutgers, Eric LeGrand, get paralyzed on a kickoff in 2010.

Goodell has called Schiano's idea ``interesting.''

Browns kicker Phil Dawson believes it's illogical.

``I'm all for player safety,'' Dawson said recently. ``I do think the NFL has done a good job in the past, like with the wedge rule. This suggestion doesn't add up. It doesn't address what they say the dangers are because punts are just as violent. There aren't going to be any touchbacks. How many times have you seen a punt returner waiting for the ball to come down and the gunner just kills him? It doesn't make sense to me.''

Without the kickoff, teams trailing in the waning minutes would have to convert fourth-and-long following a score instead of attempting an onside kick.

Interestingly, since 2005, the onside kick conversion rate has been 19.7 percent, while the rate for fourth-and-15 has been 19.2 percent, according to STATS.

Eliminating kickoffs would also get rid of the onside kick as a strategic surprise, the kind the Saints used to win the Super Bowl.

Then, there's the whole issue of job security for special teams.

``That's how some people make it in the NFL,'' Jones said. ``If it wasn't for kickoff and punt returns, I probably would have had a shot at making it, but that's my best asset. What about Devin Hester?''

The idea of abolishing one of the game's most exciting aspects certainly irritates Trindon Holliday, who has returned both a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns for Denver this season.

``I don't like it. He's messing with some of the players' livelihoods,'' said Holliday, who pointed to teammate Omar Bolden, a rookie cornerback who had nine special teams tackles and a 19.3-yard kickoff return average, as an example of a young player making his mark on special teams while biding his time behind veteran players on defense.

Teams will always need a fourth receiver or a third running back, so their jobs won't necessarily go away. But their opportunities to contribute, make an impression in games and earn more playing time from scrimmage certainly will, suggested Broncos receiver Matthew Willis, who earns his activation on game days primarily for his contributions on all of Denver's special teams units.

Opportunities. Onside kicks. Electrifying returns.

It's just too much to take from the game, Colquitt said.

``Sometimes there's too many things that people try to change when if it ain't broke, don't fix it,'' he said. ``I know it's all because of injuries, but I think there's a lot more guys getting hurt on offense and defense than in the kicking game.''

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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AP Sports Writers David Ginsburg and Tom Withers contributed.

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton on Twitter:http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Don Martindale wondered if he would ever get a second chance to be an NFL defensive coordinator after his one-and-done disaster with the Denver Broncos in 2010.

The Broncos went 4-12 that season and gave up more points (29.4 per game) and yards (390.8) than any team in the league. Those miserable numbers, not surprisingly, cost Martindale his job.

He latched on with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 as linebackers coach. After working diligently with several stars, including Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Zachary Orr and C.J. Mosley, the 54-year-old Martindale last week was promoted to defensive coordinator.

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To say he's pleased to be in charge of an NFL defense again would be a profound understatement.

"Without a doubt," Martindale said Thursday. "My family knows it. Everybody knows it. My players know it. I can't wait."

His performance in Denver eight years ago is hardly worth putting on a resume, but Martindale believes it was a worthwhile experience.

"Even though the stats were what they were, I was really proud with how we played," he said. "I'm glad I went through that process because I think that makes me a better coach today. It's like I tell my guys: You either win or you learn."

Martindale's new job with the Ravens carries the responsibility of overseeing a unit that has long been among the best in the NFL, thriving under notable leaders such as Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan, Chuck Pagano and Dean Pees, who retired on Jan. 1.

"I've been preparing for this job all my life," Martindale said. "It's very humbling, but I understand the pressure and I look forward to the challenge."

Martindale takes over a defense that this season ranked 12th in net yards allowed, first in takeaways (34) and sixth in fewest points allowed (18.9). He has no plans to revamp the unit or change the philosophy, especially since head coach John Harbaugh stressed the need to retain continuity before launching his search for Pees' replacement.

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Martindale will, however, put his own stamp on the unit.

"I think personality-wise, and just calls, there's going to be some things that are the same. And then there are going to be sometimes where I'm going to pressure more," Martindale said. "I just think I have a more aggressive personality in calling the game. Sometimes, too aggressive. That's some of the things I've learned from the past."

His most daunting task will be finding a way to make the defense to come up big late in the game. In 2016, a fourth-quarter collapse in Pittsburgh cost Baltimore a playoff berth. This season, a fourth-down touchdown pass in the final minute by Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton bounced the Ravens from the postseason chase.

"Our mantra has always been to finish," Martindale said. "We're close. Obviously, the last two years, it's been the last play that's knocked us out of it. We are going to work diligently -- all of us -- with our package and situational football.

"That's going to be the next step, I think, that will skyrocket us. That's the big thing that I see. We were really good. Let's make it great."

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Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

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USA Today Sports

Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

The Ravens' season had it's ups and down, but out of it came some bright spots.

The defense continued to prove dominate and the offense found its groove during the second half of the season, but who stood out the most?

Offensive MVP: RB Alex Collins

Collins was a late preseason pickup after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks and Ravens fans are grateful they let him go. After new acquisition Danny Woodhead injured his hamstring on the first drive in Week 1 and Terrance West injured his calf Week 5 in Oakland, Allen emerged as a saving grace. He finished the season with 973 yards, six touchdowns and 212 attempts averaging 4.6 yards-per-carry. His longest rushing attempt was 50-yards against the Steelers in Week 4, and then in Week 14, rushed 120-yards on their defense. 

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Defensive MVP: OLB Terrell Suggs

This one was a toss up between Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, but considering the level at which Sizzle is playing at in his 15th season, his 2017 performance is MVP worthy.

The 35-year old finished the season with 49 combined tackles, 12 assist, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles. Suggs ranks 11th in the league in sacks and was voted to his seventh Pro Bowl, something that should be expected from the leader of a defense that finished the regular season ranked sixth in points allowed. During the Ravens' Week 12 matchup, Suggs proved he doesn't age when he strip sacked Texans QB Tom Savage with 4:44 remaining in the fourth, shifting the momentum back to the Ravens who were clinging on to a 23-16 win. He's suffered two Achilles tears and a torn bicep over the last 5.5 seasons but has remained Hall of Fame worthy. As of right now, T-Sizzle has no plans of retiring. 

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Rookie of the Year: CB Marlon Humphrey

The Ravens' 2017 first-round pick stepped up to the plate when starting CB Jimmy Smith's season was over after suffering a torn Achilles in Week 13. The rookie out of Alabama finished the season with 34 combined tackles, four assists and two interceptions. Pro Football Focus graded Humphrey the fifth-best cover corner in the league. QBs only had a 53.5 rating when they threw in his direction. PFF also gave Humphrey a 82.7 rookie rating. 

Humphrey will continue to prove his worth during the 2018 season if Jimmy Smith is still recovering come Week 1.

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Special Teams MVP: P Sam Koch

Koch is in his 12th season with the Ravens and he's continuing to prove how efficient that leg of his is. He had a season long of 67-yards and placed 40 of 84 punts inside the 20-yard line. Koch's accuracy earned him AFC special teams player of the week not once, but twice this season. The first came in Week 12 against the Houston Texans when he not only placed five punts inside the 20-yard line, but also faked a punt and threw a 22-yard pass to Chris Moore for a first down. The second honor came in Week 15 against the Cleveland Browns after placing four punts inside the 20-yard line, three of them inside the five. While neither Koch or kicker Justin Tucker were named to the Pro Bowl, Ravens fans never break a sweat when the game is in their hands, or should we say, legs.