NEW YORK — It’s so far, so good on what amounts to the NFL’s last-ditch attempt to avoid future consideration of removing kickoffs from the league.

Six weeks into a season for which the NFL made significant modifications to kickoffs in an effort to make the play safer, league leaders say their early data about the number of concussions suffered by players on kickoffs has been promising. That’s significant, given that the final injury numbers for 2018 likely will determine whether alternatives to the kickoff are contemplated in the offseason.

“The video is showing us something,” said Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations. “And we’re hoping that the medical data actually marries with what we’ve been seeing on video.”

The league said at this week’s owners’ meeting in New York that there were zero concussions suffered by players on kickoffs in this year’s preseason games – three fewer than the 2017 preseason.

The NFL won’t release its injury data for the regular season until after the season. But Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, chairman of the league’s competition committee, said this week the preliminary indication is the reduction of concussions on kickoffs continued into the regular season.

“But,” McKay added, “I think it’s way too early to draw any conclusion from it.”

Even so, McKay said he’s cautiously optimistic the changes made to the kickoff this season will enable it to remain.

“One thing we have really tried to do is keep working with the framers, the way they framed the game, and then make adjustments, as opposed to saying we’re going to start over,” McKay said. “So I think the kickoff’s been a part of our game. Special teams have been an integral part of our game. We need to keep them in the game if we can.

“I think what was concerning to us is we’ve made a lot of tweaks with that play over the years. And we have moved the (injury) numbers a little bit, we truly have, the right direction, but not far enough. So I think it was time to see if we could really make a change. And I think we have. We can tweak what we’ve changed if we need to. … I am optimistic.”

NFL leaders have called the kickoff the sport’s most hazardous play. When it was discussed at a player-safety summit in May, Green Bay Packers President Mark Murphy said data showed that a player was five times more likely to suffer a concussion on a kickoff than a play from the line of scrimmage.

Murphy, a member of the competition committee, said then that he was hopeful about the changes but added that the kickoff was on “a pretty short leash” before there would be consideration of eliminating it.

“We also realize it’s part of the fabric of the game,” Murphy said in May. “It’s exciting. One of the best things about our game is that you can catch up with the onside kick. To completely lose some of those things would be a big change to the game. But when you’re staring at injury data, you’ve got to do something.”


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