2011 NFL Season: The End of Special Teams as We Know It

John McKelveyContributor IIIAugust 11, 2011

Imagine Antonio Cromatie five yards deeper and kneeling. That's the future!
Imagine Antonio Cromatie five yards deeper and kneeling. That's the future!Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

If there is any player that should be upset with the new NFL collective-barganing agreement it would be LaRod Stephens-Howling. The biggest rule change of the year basically eliminates one of the greatest parts of the game, the play that Stephens-Howling used to resurrect his career in Arizona.

In 2011 kickoffs have been moved up from the 30-yard line to the 35. This will mean a lot less running and a lot more kneeling for return men across the league.

With the NFL players now kicking the ball off five yards further back than high school kids and kickers getting better—Billy Cundiff tied the record for most touchbacks in a season in 2010—little hope can be placed in Stephens-Howling topping his outstanding 1,548 yards from last season.

With a total of 1,388 rushing yards as a team, the kickoff return played a big part in a not so special offense in Glendale. However, the rule change will hurt other teams as well.

The Seattle Seahawks and the New York Jets are two playoff teams that boasted a very good return game. For two teams that don't have the most spectacular offenses in the league this may be a major detriment to their scoring.

"It's just eliminating a lot of the opportunities for returners to make their names in the NFL," Josh Cribbs, who had 814 return yards in 2010, said. "It was already tough for a lot of guys like me. This is eliminating future opportunities as well."

This brings up an important part of the story. The fact of the matter is that Devin Hester would probably never made it in the NFL if it hadn't been for his return ability, as he wasn't the shutdown corner the Chicago Bears thought he was when they drafted him. Many players make the NFL via special teams and if the NFL becomes committed to stopping kickoff returns, team rosters may change immensely.

The biggest problem, though, is the loss of excitement. It's scary to see the NFL moving steadily away from the true game of old.

Ron Jaworski talked about the new rule during the the Chargers-Seahawks game Thursday saying, "I think you are taking away an exciting play for the fans."

Hopefully, the rule change won't be in place for long, as the league changed from the 35-yard line to the 30 in 1993. Until then LaRod Stephens-Howling and NFL fans will remain in the same boat.