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Quick Hits: NFL Gathers; Another Senior Moment For Zac Taylor; Big Bengals Nostalgia For Whitworth

Head coach Zac Taylor on the sidelines at Paycor Stadium.
Head coach Zac Taylor on the sidelines at Paycor Stadium.

ORLANDO, Fla. _ As the NFL owners kicked off their annual meeting here Sunday, the state of the kickoff and its drastic overhaul that could add as many as 2,000 plays this season as recommended by the competition committee, loomed as the biggest on-field issue.

The league's attempt to outlaw the hip-drop tackle also takes center stage before the meeting is expected to adjourn early Tuesday afternoon.

In an effort to stave off the kick return from extinction, the competition committee, of which Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn is a member, has offered ownership a massive proposal of change. About the only thing that stays the same is the ball is still kicked from the 35.

_If a kickoff lands in the end zone in the air, the receiving team can get the ball at its 30 instead of the 25. That was changed from the 35 when the committee met Sunday.

_If the ball lands short of the 20-yard line, the offense gets the ball at the 40.

_With apologies to Denver head coach Sean Payton, who pulled one in the Super Bowl years ago and opened last season with one, no more surprise on-side kicks. There can be an on-side kick in the fourth quarter, but the receiving team has to be informed it's on the way.

At the heart of the proposal is the introduction of "zones," with the idea of limiting injuries by curtailing the long distances the cover team has to run while giving the returners more room.

For instance, the kicking team has 10 players on the receiving team's 40 while the receiving team can have a minimum of nine players between the 30 and 35. That's the "set up zone." The "landing zone," is between the goal line and 20.

If the ball is caught or lands between the goal line and 20, it has to be run back. If the ball bounces from the landing zone into the end zone, the receiving team has to return it or down it for a touchback at its 20.

The rule needs 24 votes from the 32 owners and the ballot, which could happen Monday, comes a few days after competition committee chairman Rich McKay publicly unveiled stats to support the measure.

"We've taken too much out of the game," he said. "It's too exciting of a play."

In 2023, McKay said there were 1,970 touchbacks and 13,000 kickoff-return yards. Thirteen years ago, it was 416 and 45,000, respectively.

HIP-CHECK: Another big item is the hip-drop tackle. There's a proposal to penalize a defender 15 yards for grabbing the ball carrier with both hands, or wrapping the ball carrier with both arms and then swiveling or dropping his hips or lower body and landing on and trapping the runner's leg below the knees.

The league says the play causes a 25% increase in injuries. The NFL Players Association is against the rule, citing "confusion for us as players, for coaches, for officials and especially, for fans."

One of the plays being used as an exhibit is Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson’s tackle of Ravens tight end Mark Andrews in Baltimore last year. On what is a universally accepted legal play, Andrews suffered a serious knee injury that knocked him out of the season's last six games before he returned for the playoffs.

It will be recalled after Bengals head coach Zac Taylor ended a news conference the next day, he came back into the room to offer his support of Wilson with, "He plays the game the right way." Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo agreed, as did some Ravens during the following days.

PHOTO SHOP: Another year, another climb up the ladder of seniority for Zac Taylor when the NFL head coaches were hurriedly grouped together for their annual photo Sunday.

With rain starting to spit, it was a rushed deal, and it appeared the dean, Mike Tomlin and his 17 years with the Steelers, didn't make it.

But the lens was clear enough to show the NFL still stands for "Not For Long."

With Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll, and Mike Vrabel no longer around, only six coaches have been with their teams longer than the six seasons Taylor has spent with the Bengals.

They stood him between Lions' head man Dan Campbell, going into his fourth year, and rookie Patriots coach Jerod Mayo. Sitting to the right in front of Taylor was new Titans head coach Brian Callahan, his offensive coordinator of the last five seasons. Sitting next to Callahan was Panthers rookie Dave Canales.

"Still kicking. Just doing the best I can," Taylor said. "I didn't see (Callahan), but excited to have him in the picture."

Mayo knew he was standing next to Taylor.

"He's someone you want to model your career after as far as going through the process," Mayo said. "He went through the process and now they have a pretty good team and that's what it's all about."

As for the photo, nothing big. It came at the end of a long meeting with coaches and general managers as they try to wrap up by Tuesday afternoon.

"I think the presser was that moment I really realized I was the head coach of the New England Patriots," Mayo said.

BIG TACKLES: Prime Video NFL analyst Andrew Whitworth checked into the meetings Sunday as a media member, as well as a participant in the league's medical summit. The 6-7 Whitworth felt a little nostalgic when he saw the Bengals just signed 6-8 Trent Brown to play right tackle opposite 6-8 Orlando Brown.

"I love it. Got to be the biggest they've been since me and Willie were playing together my rookie year," said Whitworth of 6-6 Bengals Ring of Honor member Willie Anderson, the 2006 version. "Two monsters out there. You won't be able to see Joe (Burrow) back there."

Brown has battled injuries during his 10-year career, but Whitworth says, "When he's played, he's played really well.

"They've made a lot of moves. It's been a good offseason. Let's see how the draft goes. Anytime you've got Nine out there you've got a chance."