The NFL recently made a major ramification to its kickoff rules, allowing returners to call for a fair catch and advance the ball to the 25-yard line, adapting the 2018 college football rule.
The Bears' special teams coordinator, Richard Hightower, was shocked by the change, but isn't worried about the rule affecting his club.
"The rule is the rule," Hightower said. "Before it, like water under the bridge now honestly. Coach (Matt Eberflus) has kind of already spoken on it in terms of what he thinks is going to happen. We've discussed as a staff what we think the rule is going do in terms of us basically schematically planning for it. That's really where we are in the situation right now.
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"Health and safety is the number one priority for us, the NFL, for everyone. At this point, what we are trying to do is trying to figure out strategically how to attack the situation and the best ways to win the ball game."
The rule change is to enhance player safety. Studies expect concussion rates in the NFL to drop 15 percent with the rule change. A lot of concussions happen during the kickoff because of the inherent danger the play evokes.
While some are upset at the ramification, Hightower admits the NFL is trying to do the right thing in this situation.
"I think the league is trying to do the right thing," Hightower said. "We're all trying to do the right thing. We all care about our players. It's a trial run and then they'll vote on it again. And then we'll see. But ultimately, it's in the returners' hands."
As Hightower alluded, the rule change is set for a one-year trial. The NFL will reassess the rule next offseason and decide whether they want to continue with the new fair catch rule.
It's supposed to give returners the safer option of taking the ball at the 25-yard line. Hightower mentioned he doesn't expect much to change in the NFC North, as every team in the division is apt for running the ball out. From the NFL's perspective, average kickoffs taken out just above the endzone are returned to the ~24-yard line. To them, the kickoff rule will likely decrease the number of kickoffs that will be returned, but give the players well more safety than before the change.
Hightower won't know how to adapt to the new rule until he and the team see it in action. They can prepare as much as they please now, but nothing will be more telling than enacting the rule during a real game.
“Yeah I think you learn from every experience you have, so what I have learned from my other experiences is the question you're asking is to continue study, continue to try to find ways to be the best that what we can be at what we do and everything is not apples," Hightower said. "You know what I mean? Everything is not comparable but I mean what I have learned is just continue to study. Like continue to study the rule, continue to study preseason. We went and studied college from last season and studied all of that."