League with­out kick­offs a turnoff for Cribbs, Daw­son

Austin American-Statesman - - C SPORTS - By­tomwith­ers

BEREA, OHiO — Kick­offs have de­fined Josh Cribbs’ ca­reer in the NFL, and made him an in­valu­able weapon for the Cleve­land Browns. So the thought of the league abol­ish­ing the ex­cit­ing play ir­ri­tates the re­turn spe­cial­ist.

“They need to call it a dif­fer­ent league if they do that,” Cribbs said. “It’ll change the game dras­ti­cally.”

Ear­lier this week, Com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell said the league’s com­pe­ti­tion com­mit­tee will con­sider elim­i­nat­ing kick­offs in the off­sea­son. In an ef­fort to re­duce head in­juries and pro­tect play­ers, the league pre­vi­ously moved the kick­off from the 30- to 35-yard line to cut down on vi­o­lent col­li­sions.

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

Good­ell has called Schi­ano’s idea “in­ter­est­ing.”

Browns kicker Phil Daw­son, a former Texas Longhorn, be­lieves it’s il­log­i­cal. “I’m all for player safety,” said Daw­son, in his 14th sea­son with Cleve­land. “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.”

Cribbs, who shares the league record (8) for kick­off re­turn touch­downs with Seat­tle’s Leon Washington, can’t en­vi­sion the game he has played since he was a kid not hav­ing kick­offs.

“I couldn’t ever see that,” said Cribbs, sixth on the ca­reer kick­off yardage list. “That’s like tak­ing the goal post out of the sta­dium, tak­ing the whole post and up­root­ing it. Only play of­fense and de­fense, just like in­tra­mu­rals. Then play in­doors and put flags in our pants.”

Daw­son be­lieves re­cent rules changes like ban­ning the block­ing wedge, mov­ing the kick­off up five yards and lim­it­ing the num­ber of play­ers that can line up on one side of the ball for an on­side kick, have less­ened the num­ber of vi­o­lent col­li­sions in games.

How­ever, there are plenty of other plays when hard hits are com­mon. He cited punts as a prime ex­am­ple.

“When the ball is 50 yards down the field, guys are run­ning full speed and you get a lot of cross blocks and guys get­ting knocked out,” Daw­son said.

“I still wouldn’t say it’s any more dan­ger­ous than any other play. I watch wide re­ceivers get con­cus­sions each and ev­ery week in the NFL, yet we’re go­ing to pick on kick­offs? That doesn’t add up to me.”

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