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Belichick says league wants to eliminate kickoffs

Jacksonville Jaguars v New England Patriots

FOXBORO, MA - AUGUST 11: Head coach Bill Belichick looks on before the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on August 11, 2011 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

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Without question, the rule moving the kickoff point from the 30 to the 35 has generated more discussion and debate than any other rule. It’s arguably caused more reaction and analysis than most other rules changes, combined.

Here’s the latest, courtesy of Tom Curran of CSNNE.com.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday that the league wants to eliminate the kickoff. And that’s not an expression of opinion. Belichick says that the league told him this.

“That’s what they told us,” Belichick said. “I’m not speaking for anyone else. That’s what they told us, that they want to eliminate the play.”

The league disagrees.

"[Chairman of the Competition Committee] Rich McKay and [NFL Vice President] Ray Anderson say that’s not accurate,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told Curran via e-mail. “They said the Competition Committee’s position was that they wanted to ‘shorten the field’ and that the movement of the kickoff line would potentially reduce the number of kickoffs to be returned. They said they are unaware of anyone saying that it was intended to ‘eliminate’ the kickoff return.”

It could be a matter of semantics. The league wants to make the play safer by having the play unfold less frequently. Each iteration of the play remains just as dangerous; the thinking is that, by running the play fewer times, the total number of injuries will drop. And so if the rule change results in no kick returns, the play will be completely safe.

NBC’s Al Michaels said on Tuesday’s PFT Live that he doesn’t like the rule, and that he doesn’t think it will last. Belichick explained that, for now, it will impact the decisions made when shaping a roster.

“If, instead of covering 60 kickoffs in a year you think you’re only gonna be covering 30, then is that coverage player as important, or -- on the flip side of it -- is the return game?” Belichick said. “If you’re going to be returning 30 instead of 60, are the guys who block on the kickoff return [as important?] If you think you’re gonna be returning more punts than kickoffs [there’s a decision to weigh]. Usually you’re going to be returning more kickoffs than punts but if you think you’ll be returning more punts than kickoffs, then maybe you put more of a priority on your punt returner than your kickoff returner.”

He’s right. Kickoff returners have less value, and a kickoff specialist who can put the ball into the front row -- or who can hang it high and drop it inside the five -- will have greater value.

Regardless, the rule has created a bigger reaction than anyone anticipated. Peter King of SI.com pointed out in his latest Monday Morning Quarterback column that, in 2010, 16.4 percent of the kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. The number surely will go much higher in 2011.

Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, not many people are calling it a good thing.