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Kickers Given Boot by NFL : Pro football: Changes, including two-point conversion and new field position after missed field goals, encourage touchdowns.

March 23, 1994|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ORLANDO, Fla. — The NFL delivered a good swift kick to kickers Tuesday in one of the most dramatic days of rule changes in the league's 75-year history.

Not only did owners approve the use of the two-point conversion.

Not only did they move the kickoff back five yards to the 30-yard line.

But they also approved returning missed field goals to the point of the kick instead of the line of scrimmage. The seven- or eight-yard difference figures to keep many kickers on the bench.

"I feel like our legs are being tied together," said Gary Anderson, veteran Pittsburgh Steeler kicker.

Exactly the point, according to coaches.

"People who have all those great field goal kickers, now they are going to have to start checking things out a little closer," said Buddy Ryan of the Arizona Cardinals.

Although the two-point conversion is the first scoring rule change in league history, its impact probably will be overshadowed by the rule that essentially penalizes a team for missing field goals.

"The change there will be profound," Anderson said. "This is a rule about field position. Coaches preach field position. They will stop trying long field goals if it means lost field position."

Last year, officials were upset that kickers were successful on three field goals for every four touchdowns scored. Besides that, only 68.5% of kickoffs were returned, nearly 20% fewer than in 1978.

"So what they are doing is trying to punish the kickers for being too good," said Tony Zendejas of the Rams. "It's not right."

The new rules, and what coaches expect they will mean:

--Two-point conversion from the two-yard line.

No more settling for field goals in the middle of the fourth quarter when trailing by eight points. More fourth-down conversion attempts, more gambling.

No more sitting on the ball while leading by eight points in the middle of the fourth quarter. More daring offense, less prevent defense.

What will not happen is teams using the two-point conversion to win in the final seconds after pulling within one point on a touchdown.

"That's what they have overtime for, ain't it?" Ryan said. "Depending on the situation, most people are going to kick the extra point and take a chance on the coin toss."

--Moving the kickoff back five yards while lowering the tee from a maximum of three inches to one.

Fewer touchbacks, more long returns of more line-drive kicks.

More intentionally short kickoffs when teams realize that they can't stop these returns.

"If I'm playing Dallas and looking at Kevin Williams down there, I'm not kicking the ball to him," said Dan Reeves, New York Giant coach who was upset with the changes. "All this rule means is, more squib kicks."

--Returning the ball to the spot of the kick on missed field goals, normally seven or eight yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Teams that automatically attempted field goals on fourth down and short from the 30-yard line will be going for first downs.

Teams that gave strong-legged kickers a shot from 50 yards or more will be deciding instead to punt.

"Quarterbacks everywhere today are jumping for joy," said Leigh Steinberg, agent for Troy Aikman and Steve Young, among others. "Last year, quarterbacks were complaining that the game should be taken off the kicker's foot and put back into their hands."

They will not be joined in their celebration by Reeves, who was openly angry at a rule that reduces the effectiveness of his specialty kicker, Brad Daluiso.

George Young, Giants' general manager, was a Competition Committee member who pushed for the new rules.

"To me, the public could care less about points," Reeves said. "They want competition. And can you tell me a better game than our game against Phoenix last year when Daluiso won it with a 54-yard field goal in the final seconds."

Other coaches openly dread the darker side of the new rules. In exchange for more offense, they have left themselves open to considerably more second-guessing.

"This leads to some very, very exciting plays . . . but when they are over, one of the coaches is going to get ripped," said Mike Holmgren, Green Bay's coach.

Don Shula, a Competition Committee member whose approval was vital to the passage of the rules, scoffed at the suggestion of coaches feeling more heat.

"I don't know how in the hell there can be more pressure on you than there is now," he said. "So why not? . . . The league needed more offense. We hope this will provide that."

The two-point conversion, which passed 23-4, with the San Diego Chargers not voting, could also mean a slight change in personnel.

The best conversion plays are run by option offenses, which currently do not exist in the league. Heroes could come from the unlikeliest places.

"I may just decide to put Sterling Sharpe at quarterback on a two-point play and let him run around a little bit," Holmgren said.

For kickers, there was some slight comfort after the turbulent day.

"You're down by two points, there's only one way to end a game," Gary Anderson said. "And that isn't changing."

Pro Football Notes

The Raiders are one of six teams that have contacted Leigh Steinberg about obtaining quarterback Jim Harbaugh, recently released by the Chicago Bears. . . . The Raiders will play the Denver Broncos in an exhibition game in Barcelona, Spain, July 31. . . . Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys' owner, told several writers in a hotel bar early Tuesday that "I'm sick and tired of hearing this Jacksonville stuff . . . I should have fired Jimmy (Johnson) and hired Barry Switzer," according to eyewitnesses. Johnson confronted Jones later Tuesday and received an apology.

John Shaw, Ram vice president, maintained that he still plans to notify the city of Anaheim on May 3 that he is terminating the Rams' lease effective Aug. 3, 1995. After that notification, Upon the announcement, expect Baltimore, St. Louis and Memphis to make their pitches for the franchise. Baltimore is still the clear favorite because of stadium lease problems in St. Louis and money problems in Memphis.

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