Matthew Slater Defends Kickoffs As Questions Loom Over New NFL Rule

FOXBORO, Mass. — Matthew Slater has carved out an eight-year career with five Pro Bowl nods and three first-team All-Pro honors thanks to his work in the kicking game. So, it makes sense the New England Patriots player representative and captain doesn’t want to see the NFL eliminate kickoffs.

NFL owners passed a rule that will place the ball on the 25-yard line after a touchback on kickoffs. The rule was passed to discourage returners from taking the ball out of the end zone with player safety in mind. It seems the next step would be eliminating kickoffs altogether.

“There’s a lot of speculation as to the future of the kickoff. I know this year I think it’s going to be interesting to see how teams approach it because (the touchback) just gives the team the ball on the 25 (yard line),” Slater said Thursday at Gillette Stadium. “That changes field position quite a bit. It seems like just five yards, but it’s going to be interesting to see how we approach it and how other teams approach it, and I’m very disappointed obviously in the way that we’re discussing the future of the kickoff.

“The kickoff is a big part of the history of the NFL and the history of football and for us to be sitting here talking about maybe doing away with the kickoff. It’s very disappointing.

“I can think about days all the way back to watching my dad when he played with the Rams and thinking of returners like Ron Brown and people of that nature that made a career out of doing this. You think about Steve Tasker and his impact on the game of football, Bill Bates, the list goes on. The kicking game has meant a lot to the game of football and to a lot of players individually, and it’s enabled guys to have careers. You think about Larry Izzo, you think about myself. Without the kicking game, we don’t have a career.

“I’m very disappointed in some of the things I hear in regards to getting rid of the kickoff. I surely hope that’s not the case. I hope that’s not the direction that we’re moving in, but we’ll see.”

The new rule actually could have an opposite effect than intended. Coaches might encourage kickers to try a higher, shorter kick to keep the ball out of the end zone, which would in turn increase returns.

“It might backfire. We’ll see, we’ll see,” Slater said. “I don’t know how other teams are going to approach it, and quite honestly, I don’t know how we’re going to approach it yet. Right now, we’re just practicing our techniques the same way we would as if it was last year. So, we’ll see, but I certainly think there’s a possibility that a lot of coaches are not just going to want to hand teams the ball on the 25-yard line. So, we’ll see.”

The rule certainly will affect game strategy in 2016.

“Field position is huge in this game, and you’re adding an additional 5 percent of the field to the offense,” Slater said. “I don’t feel like that’s the best thing for the game. I understand that they’re trying to do what’s best in terms of health and safety and I respect that. I’m obviously our union rep here so I think that there is nothing more important than the health and safety of our players, but I do not think that the kickoff is a hazard that we need to be thinking about getting rid of.”

Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images

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