Over the past five-plus years, the NFL has made a concerted effort to make the game of football safer — particularly on kickoffs. The league has moved kickoffs up to the 35-yard line, and now, it’s made changes to touchbacks.
Beginning this season, touchbacks will come out to the 25-yard line, not the 20. As a result, returners will be encouraged to kneel in the end zone rather than attempting to reach the 25-yard line.
One of the greatest return men in NFL history isn’t pleased with the change and believes the NFL is trying to eliminate his main duty.
"It’s like taking away a job from people," Hester said, via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. "I got a concussion making a block at receiver. But I never got hurt taking hits back on kickoffs."
Hester’s injury history, or lack thereof, is where his argument stems. The 10-year veteran says he’s never suffered a concussion on kickoffs despite returning 276 kicks in his career. And given his success taking back kicks, Hester was given free rein to come out even 7 yards deep sometimes.
"If we’re clicking, we can bring it back from pretty much anywhere; real talk,” Hester said. "If our return game is doing good, it’s pretty much the green light. The deepest I’ve fielded one [with Falcons] has been 7 or 8 yards in. The normal is about 4 or 5 yards deep."
Needless to say, Hester won’t be returning kicks that are 8 yards deep. But with the rule change, teams likely won’t be booting balls through the end zone either. They’ll likely try to pin opponents deep with pooch kicks and ones placed in the corners of the field. Only time will tell how this works out, but it certainly doesn’t do return specialists any favors.