It was nearly a year ago that the NFL announced kickoffs would be moved from the 30- to the 35-yard line with the stated goal of reducing concussions.
Dr. Hunt Batjer, the co-chair of NFL Head, Neck & Spine Committee and department chair of neurological surgery at Northwestern University, said Wednesday that concussions on kickoffs were cut in half in the 2011 season.
Before you point out that the dramatic reduction in kickoff returns and rise in touchbacks is the reason why, there is a twist to the data.
“We just got the data recently,” Batjer said. “It looks to me like a decreased number of runbacks played a role. It did not affect a lot of the other injuries paradoxically.”
That means other injuries, like ankle sprains, were not dramatically reduced by the significant drop in kickoff returns. Touchbacks nearly tripled from 2010 to 2011 with 1,120, according to Elias Sports Bureau, and the number of kickoff returns in 2010 (2,033) dropped to 1,375 in 2011.
Batjer said more time needs to be spent studying data and that will be done. It’s pretty clear, to this point, that the kickoff line will remain at the 35 as we head into 2012.
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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune