Nick Roach still has kickoff concerns
CHICAGO -- For all the rhetoric surrounding special teams rules changes aimed at improving player safety, the NFL failed to address the most hazardous aspect for any member of an NFL kickoff team, according to Bears linebacker Nick Roach.
"I think the most dangerous thing on a kickoff isn't the distance you have to cover, it's the type of blocks that are allowed on the kickoff return team," Roach told ESPNChicago.com on Thursday. "You'll see a lot of trap blocks, where say I'm the third guy running down from the sideline on the right side -- running down the field and thinking nobody is blocking me because I see a wedge forming in front of me about twenty yards away. But then a guy on the kickoff return team will come from across the field, the complete other side, to blindside me from my inside out.
"Those are by far the most dangerous hits. It's just like a complete blindside shot when you are wide open running down the field in a total sprint. You never see that coming and they totally take you off your feet sometimes."
And Roach knows the dangers of being on the kickoff team. The linebacker suffered a concussion covering a kickoff during the Bears' first preseason game of the 2009 season in Buffalo.
NFL owners voted Tuesday to move kickoffs up to the 35-yard line starting next season to increase the number of touchbacks and decrease the number of injuries on kick returns. Under the new rules, coverage players are only allowed to take a five-yard running start -- compared to a 10-to-15-yard head start under the old rules -- before the kicker makes contact with the ball.
The types of devastating blocks on kickoffs described by Roach, however, remain legal.
"It's just like a crack-back block, and those, for whatever reason, are legal from whatever distance," Roach said. "You figure a guy gets a 20-yard head start coming directly at you, and you're not looking, some real damage is going to be caused by that.
"They can knock you into other people, knock you into the wedge. You're starting to see a lot more of those types of blocks, which is more dangerous than anything else. Guys will be looking at you like they are going to block you, then they'll bump out to block the person next to you, all the while another member of the return team is sprinting at you full speed to knock you out."
As far as Roach's concussion, he said it was kind of a fluke.
"We just kind of hit helmet-to-helmet, that's how that happened," Roach said. "That was kind of a fluke.
"But I feel like they are going after things that really aren't the most dangerous aspects of special teams. Moving the ball up or shortening up the takeoff distance, I just really don't think those are the biggest problems."
Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.