Lovie Smith wants to emphasize returners, not kickers

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NEW ORLEANS – Bears coach Lovie Smith didn’t mask his disdain of potential changes to kickoff returns.

“First off, I can’t believe we’re really talking about [that],” Smith said. “The most exciting play in football; you would think we would want to keep that in. We would work as hard as we could to try to make it safer, whatever way that is.

“But to eliminate that, to me, is kind of tearing up the fiber of the game, a little bit. Yeah, we have a great returner. But that’s a big part of the game.”

Smith said his biggest issue is moving the ball to the 35-yard line, which would lead to more touchbacks. In fact, Smith said he wouldn’t have as much of an issue with eliminating the running starts or even the wedge.

“The part that we’re not OK is moving the ball up to the 35-yard line. The rest of it, we could live with,” Smith said.

Smith said he doesn’t like the idea of making kickers a more important part of the game.

“Why would we do something to put more emphasis on the kicker? Nothing against the kicker,” Smith said, “but why would we do something for that, as opposed to the returner?”

“Our fans are probably more interested in coming there to see Devin Hester run a ball back as opposed to seeing a kicker kicking it out of the end zone, with no action,” Smith said separately.

Smith said he’s not convinced player safety will be improved by tweaking kickoffs. He noted that his club has only had one injury – an ankle sprain – in the last couple of seasons on kickoff returns and coverage.

“I’m all for making the game safer. But, this seems like it’s more than that,” he said. “Before long, we’ll start putting the ball on the 20-yard line and starting the game that way, and eliminating the play. That’s what you’re doing, a little bit.”

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