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NFL players don't want kickoffs to get the boot

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NFL players don't want kickoffs to get the boot

DENVER (AP) The eight teams left in the NFL playoffs can thank their special teams for a good part of their success. That's one reason players are still upset Commissioner Roger Goodell has floated the idea of abolishing kickoffs altogether.

Baltimore Ravens return specialist Jacoby Jones, who returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season, said if the league gets rid of the electrifying plays, ``I'm going to retire. I will go (ballistic). ... If they take out kickoffs, they're going to hate me in this league.''

The idea is only a suggestion, one Goodell says the league will consider in the offseason for safety reasons, but players are vehemently opposed to such a radical change they contend would shake the foundation of America's most popular sport.

``I haven't found anybody that likes the idea, because, first of all, the sport is called football, so you can't keep taking the foot part of it out,'' Denver Broncos punter Britton Colquitt said. ``It would also be really confusing if they were like, `Stay tuned for kickoff,' and there was no kickoff, you know? What are they going to say, `Stay tuned for the start of the game'?

``Boooring!''

Abolishing kickoffs would also eliminate the onside kick as an option - like the one the New Orleans Saints used to turn the tide against the Indianapolis Colts coming out of halftime in the Super Bowl three years ago - and it would prune some pizazz from the game, like Desmond Howard's kickoff return for a touchdown that gave Brett Favre his only championship ring in the mid-1990s.

Of the 13 kickoff-return TDs this season, seven came from teams that reached the playoffs as the Ravens, Colts, Patriots, Broncos, Seahawks and Vikings all sported resumes that boasted at least one of the backbreakers.

Players say rules changes like banning the blocking wedge, moving the kickoff up five yards and limiting the number of players who can line up on one side of the ball for an onside kick have already lessened the number of violent collisions in games and they wonder if messing with the kickoffs is simply going too far.

``If you've got to do something about it, if you still feel like it's injuries, then move it up to the 40 and then it's like 99 percent of the time it's going to be a touchback,'' Colquitt suggested.

That way, the onside kick would still be an option.

``But you even see the returners, they're returning the ball from deeper in the end zone than they used to because they want to return it,'' Colquitt said. ``They're not out there in fear for their life, they're not saying, `I don't want to do this.'''

Indeed, there were eight 100-yard kickoff-return touchdowns in 2012, the most of any season in NFL history.

``Bringing one out, how is that unsafe? It's football,'' Jones said. ``Everybody doesn't take them out from 8 yards deep, but I take my chances because I have fun. And I have guys in front of me that do a heck of a job blocking. We take care of each other and roll with the punches.''

The NFL has made safety a top priority in recent years as it faces lawsuits by thousands of former players who say the league withheld information on the harmful effects of concussions. According to an AP review of 175 lawsuits, 3,818 players have filed suit. At least 26 Hall of Famers are among the players who have done so.

Two years ago, the league moved the kickoff from the 30 to the 35-yard line to cut down on violent collisions, and that has resulted in far more touchbacks and, the league says, a lot fewer head injuries.

The average number of kickoff returns since the rule change has fallen to 1,385 a season from about 2,100 per year before the change, according to STATS LLC.

``We continue to look for other ways to take the head out of the game,'' Goodell said in a recent speech at Harvard. ``Two years ago we moved the kickoff line five yards forward to the 35. That reform yielded real benefits - a 40 percent reduction in concussions last year on kickoffs. College football then adopted our rule. Some think that the kickoff, the play with the highest injury rate, should be eliminated from the game or modified even further.''

Tampa Bay first-year coach Greg Schiano suggested to Goodell that instead of kickoffs, teams would have the option of punting from the 30-yard line or going for a first down in a fourth-and-15 situation. Schiano witnessed one of his players at Rutgers, Eric LeGrand, get paralyzed on a kickoff in 2010.

Goodell has called Schiano's idea ``interesting.''

Browns kicker Phil Dawson believes it's illogical.

``I'm all for player safety,'' Dawson said recently. ``I do think the NFL has done a good job in the past, like with the wedge rule. This suggestion doesn't add up. It doesn't address what they say the dangers are because punts are just as violent. There aren't going to be any touchbacks. How many times have you seen a punt returner waiting for the ball to come down and the gunner just kills him? It doesn't make sense to me.''

Without the kickoff, teams trailing in the waning minutes would have to convert fourth-and-long following a score instead of attempting an onside kick.

Interestingly, since 2005, the onside kick conversion rate has been 19.7 percent, while the rate for fourth-and-15 has been 19.2 percent, according to STATS.

Eliminating kickoffs would also get rid of the onside kick as a strategic surprise, the kind the Saints used to win the Super Bowl.

Then, there's the whole issue of job security for special teams.

``That's how some people make it in the NFL,'' Jones said. ``If it wasn't for kickoff and punt returns, I probably would have had a shot at making it, but that's my best asset. What about Devin Hester?''

The idea of abolishing one of the game's most exciting aspects certainly irritates Trindon Holliday, who has returned both a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns for Denver this season.

``I don't like it. He's messing with some of the players' livelihoods,'' said Holliday, who pointed to teammate Omar Bolden, a rookie cornerback who had nine special teams tackles and a 19.3-yard kickoff return average, as an example of a young player making his mark on special teams while biding his time behind veteran players on defense.

Teams will always need a fourth receiver or a third running back, so their jobs won't necessarily go away. But their opportunities to contribute, make an impression in games and earn more playing time from scrimmage certainly will, suggested Broncos receiver Matthew Willis, who earns his activation on game days primarily for his contributions on all of Denver's special teams units.

Opportunities. Onside kicks. Electrifying returns.

It's just too much to take from the game, Colquitt said.

``Sometimes there's too many things that people try to change when if it ain't broke, don't fix it,'' he said. ``I know it's all because of injuries, but I think there's a lot more guys getting hurt on offense and defense than in the kicking game.''

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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AP Sports Writers David Ginsburg and Tom Withers contributed.

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton on Twitter:http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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Report: Boldin to sign with Lions

Report: Boldin to sign with Lions

Former Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin is back for a 14th season.

Boldin, who turns 36 in October, will sign a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. In Detroit, Boldin will be reunited with Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who became the Ravens offensive coordinator during their run to the Super Bowl in the 2012 season.

The Lions had a major void at wide receiver with All-Pro Calvin Johnson's retirement.

RELATED: RAVENS AGREE TO ONE-YEAR DEAL WITH OL JAKE LONG

A former second-round draft pick, Boldin spent seven seasons with the Cardinals before the Ravens traded for him in 2010. In three seasons with the Ravens, Boldin averaged 62 catches and 882 yards. He came up huge in the 2012 playoff run, with a team-best 22 catches for 380 yards and four touchdowns. He had six catches for 104 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl win over the 49ers.

After that Super Bowl run, though, Boldin was traded to the 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick. Boldin led the 49ers in catches and receiving yards in each of the past three years. He had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with the 49ers in 2013 and 2014, leading many to question the Ravens decision to trade him. Last season, Boldin led the 49ers with 69 catches for 789 yards.

Boldin enters this season ranked 17th in NFL history with 13,195 receiving yards. One of the few players ahead of him is current Ravens receiver Steve Smith Sr., who ranks 11th (13,392). Boldin last season became the 13th player in NFL history with 1,000 career receptions and now has 1,009. Smith, incidentally, needs 39 catches this season join Boldin in the 1,000-catch club.

MORE RAVENS: RETURNING PUNTS KEY FOR 3 RAVENS WR'S ON BUBBLE

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Ravens agree to one-year deal with former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long

Ravens agree to one-year deal with former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long

The Ravens are expected to sign veteran offensive lineman Jake Long after he flies into Baltimore on Tuesday night, CSN has confirmed. The impending Long-Ravens deal was first reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN, who reported that Long and the Ravens had agreed to a one-year deal. That contract is expected to be signed if there were no last-minute concerns once Long arrived in town.

Long is a former Pro Bowl left tackle with the Dolphins who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft. He spent five seasons with the Dolphins, before joining the Rams for two seasons, then playing four games with the Falcons last season. Long is still only 31 years old, but he has been plagued by injuries in recent seasons, including two torn ACL’s.

The Ravens view Long as insurance at left tackle to as a backup to first-round pick Ronnie Stanley. While the Ravens believe Stanley can handle the starting job, the Ravens were left thin at the position after releasing veteran Eugene Monroe, who has since retired. James Hurst has been the Ravens’ backup left tackle, but in Long, the Ravens would have a more experienced option should Stanley struggle or suffer an injury.

RELATED: RETURNING PUNTS KEY FOR 3 RAVENS WR'S ON BUBBLE

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For three Ravens WR's on bubble, returning punts could be key

For three Ravens WR's on bubble, returning punts could be key

The Ravens don’t know who their primary punt returner will be, but they have plenty of options heading into training camp.

Keenan Reynolds, Michael Campanaro, and Kaelin Clay should all get reps returning punts. All three of those wide receivers are on the roster bubble, making their contributions on special teams even more important.

Campanaro has shown he can contribute as a wide receiver when he’s healthy.  However, avoiding injuries has been a major issue for Campanaro during his first two seasons.

The Ravens would prefer their punt returner to help the 53-man roster in another capacity, which may give Campanaro an edge. But if Campanaro, Reynolds, and Clay are not among the top six wide receivers when final cuts have to be made, will the Ravens decide to keep any of them strictly for their ability to return punts?

Reynolds will be a popular storyline during camp, as he tries to make the transition from Navy quarterback to NFL wide receiver. If Reynolds shows promise as a receiver, it will increase his chances of making the team, because his speed and ability to change direction will likely translate well to returning punts. Meanwhile, Clay had an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Browns last season, so he has already shown explosiveness as a returner.

Figuring out their best option for returning punts is one of many things on the Ravens’ to-do list, with the first full-squad practice scheduled for Thursday.