- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Chicago Bears reporter
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NEW ORLEANS -- Bears general manager Jerry Angelo spoke diplomatically Monday at the NFL owners meeting about the importance of player safety when commenting about proposed rule changes for kickoffs.
Still, the Bears are expected to vote against changes to the rules Tuesday morning when the clubs convene again at the Roosevelt Hotel.
Proposed rules changes need a 75 percent vote from ownership to pass.
"I don't think it's going to negate the kickoff. We're still going to have our returns," Angelo said. "In Chicago, we've got two seasons. When the weather gets a little cooler, the ball gets a little heavier. I still forsee us having a lot of returns in the kickoffs. Player safety is our No. 1 concern; always has been. The commissioner has said it. We've said it as an organization."
As meetings came to a close on Monday, Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, who serves as chairman of the competition committee, said that after speaking with some coaches, his group is currently considering making modifications from the original proposal presented last week.
The original proposed changes to kickoff rules would have moved the launch point on kickoffs from the 35-yard line to the 30, in addition to moving touchbacks from the 20 to the 25, along with the elimination of all wedge-blocking schemes.
Angelo stressed the team's and the league's commitment to making the game more safe, but hasn't lost sight of the fact the distinct advantage the Bears currently possess in the kickoff game with dynamic returners such as Devin Hester and Danieal Manning.
Angelo said he would "definitely like the rule to stay the way it is."
"We're all playing by the same rules," Angelo said. "We have maybe the greatest kick returner that ever played the game. But it's still about the game. That's what we're fixed on. So we'll see how it goes tomorrow. But I'm still confident the play is not going to be taken away. That's all. It's just in the betterment of the game in terms of safety. I understand. That's what a lot of the dialogue [is]. Given the big picture, we get it, and everybody has to make a change given the big picture."
McKay said the average starting field position for teams is approximately the 27-yard line. But the Bears returned 16 kickoffs in 2010 for 30 yards or more, and 10 more for 40 or more.
The proposal to modify kickoff rules was designed to increase the number of touchbacks, which should simultaneously decrease the instances of injuries on those plays. The Bears are one of just eight teams in 2010 to have 10 touchbacks or fewer (5), and their touchback percentage (7.6) was third-lowest in the NFL.
"We're mindful of the statistics, the results that we gather through the medical people on everything; on every phase of our game: quarterback safety, defenseless players," Angelo said. "I think the commissioner, the competition committee has done a great job of making us very aware of everything in the name of the game, in keeping it not only competitive, but obviously keeping it safe. There's more research going on, more things that we're being made aware of."
Although Angelo made the politically-correct comments, his body language -- as well as what he wasn't saying -- told a different story about which way the Bears might vote.
Angelo declined to answer when asked specifically which way the team would vote on the proposal.
And, toting a brown briefcase down a hallway at the Roosevelt Hotel, Angelo paused as he was reminded that Hester is considered by some to be the best return man in NFL history.
His wide smile when acknowledging the sentiment sent a strong indication the Bears will vote against proposed changes to the rules for kickoffs.
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.
Bears GM Jerry Angelo was diplomatic while speaking about potential changes to kickoff rules.