Bears News: Richard Hightower on kickoff rule change, strength of the North

Bears News: Richard Hightower on kickoff rule change, strength of the North

by - Correspondent -

CHICAGO - During the offseason, the NFL owners passed a new rule where if a player calls a fair catch between the endzone and the 25-yard line, then the ball would be placed at that team’s 25-yard line.

Not everyone is happy about the new rule, but the league claims that it is to protect player safety by minimizing concussions.

“The rule is the rule … Water under the bridge, honestly,” special teams coordinator Richard Hightower said during a press conference recently. “Coach (Eberflus) has already spoken on it in terms of what he thinks is going to happen. We’ve discussed as a staff, you know, what we think the rule is going to do in terms of us, basically, schematically, playing … Health and safety is the No. 1 priority for us and the NFL and everyone.”

If the rule was going to be changed, it is a question as to why they did not implement something similar to the XFL, where they did not change the process of the fair catch but still minimize concussions and allow for greater opportunities for returns. This should be a priority for the NFL, as nearly half of the teams this past season had less than 30 kickoff returns; the lowest was the New York Jets, who averaged less than one kickoff return per game.

Still, this does not seem too much of a concern for the Chicago Bears and their coaching staff. As Hightower mentioned, this does change what the team will do schematically. This is especially true in the NFC North, where the teams return the ball more. The Minnesota Vikings were second in the league in return average with 26.2, and the Bears were fifth in that category averaging 25.7 yards per return. All the teams in the North, except the Bears, ranked in the top 10 for the number of returns, with Green Bay being first and only having 18 touchbacks, the least in the NFL last season.

Chicago is looking to improve all around, including on special teams. Luckily for the Bears, Hightower said that he is seeing improvements from the unit, including returners Dante Pettis and Velus Jones Jr.

“We believe in all our players. We think they all have the ability to do that job, the ones that we have back there, and we’re continuing to develop them,” Hightower explained. “They’re both looking better than they did last year - both Dante and Velus - and we got us some more young kids, so we’re excited about that group.”

There are many more improvements to come, however, with all of the new young players that came onto the team during the offseason. Special teams is a common place for players to end up who are trying to earn a roster spot so they can develop further on the team.

That is something that Hightower takes a lot of pride in - being a coach that can help an underdog grow into a starter.

“That’s the beauty of what we do - (assistant special teams coach Carlos Polk) and I - is getting young players and developing them and getting them to a level where they have the confidence where they can contribute for us, and then they go and contribute on offense and defense,” Hightower said. “So, they become really good players in this league.”

Hightower also took the opportunity to express his condolences to Bill McGovern and his family. McGovern died a little over a week ago from cancer. He served as a linebackers coach for three different teams for eight total years, with his final journey being his one-year position with the Chicago Bears as the inside linebackers coach.

“I just want to express our condolences to Bill McGovern (who) was in the league for a long time, coached here at the Bears,” Hightower said. “Some of our players know him and just wanted to say prayers to him and his family. Really, really special guy throughout the league and just want his family to know my thoughts and prayers are with them.”

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