There might not be a more-important issue surrounding football today than player safety, and it all starts with the concussion.

According to Kevin Seifert of NFL Nation, the concussion rate rose by nearly 32 percent in 2015-16 — 271 reported cases in total, including preseason games. In 2014, there were 206 concussions, and in 2013, 226.

Los Angeles Rams special team coordinator John Fassel joined Gil Whiteley on Mile High Sports Radio AM 1310/ FM 104.7 to discuss the league-wide conference call held between all 32 special teams coordinators in order to brainstorm new ideas and techniques to make the kickoff play safer for everyone involved.

GIL WHITELEY LIVE STREAM“We talked about how to make kickoffs and returns safer, and make modifications with different rules to make it safer. Not to take it out of the game, but there were a lot of unique ideas,” Fassel said. “We don’t want to see the play go away.”

One idea people from around the league suggested was to have the kickoff team stand at the 35-yard line, where the ball is placed, and not allow them to get a running head start. In doing that, the impact of collisions wouldn’t be as dangerous. But Fassel stressed how difficult is was to avoid any injury when you have professional athletes running that far and that fast towards the kickoff returner.

“There have been rules made to make it a safer play,” Fassel explained. “When you got guys running that far and that fast, though, there’s going to be certain collisions that you just can’t help, and sometimes players get banged up.”

For every 100 plays, the concussion rate of a kickoff return compared to a regular offensive or defensive play was about 2-1. And compared to punt returns, about 2-1.5. There are obviously more concussions occurring on kickoff returns, but Fassel believes it would be more harming to eliminate them altogether.

“I don’t see them eliminating the kickoff or kickoff returns, because if you do that, the only special teams plays you have left in the game are punts and punt returns, and who’s going to hire special teams coaches to coach two phases of the game,” Fassel said. “You’re going to lose players who specialize in that, and you’re taking a lot of work away from people.”

Many players on an NFL roster are there specifically for special teams. The Rams, according to Fassel, carry five to seven guys on their roster that are just used for special-team purposes. Players make a living and spend their entire career being a specialist in that aspect of the game, and many other Pro Bowlers and Hall of Famers broke into the game on special teams as well.

“You take those opportunities away, you take away the opportunities for some guys that break in the league as special teamer, that develop into offense or defensive starter,” Fassel said.

Fassel remained confident that the NFL would continue to make modifications and push forward changes in order to make kickoff returns safer, but not to totally eliminate them.

“They’re going to find ways to adapt and make some modifications to it, but you gotta keep it or else you’re talking about losing a large part of the game,” Fassel said.

To hear about some of the other suggestions all 32 special team coordinators talked about implementing and to hear more from the interview, check out the podcast below …

Catch Gil Whiteley every weekday from 11a-1p on Mile High Sports AM 1340 | FM 104.7, or stream live any time for the best local coverage of Colorado sports from Denver’s biggest sports talk lineup.