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The NFL is overhauling the Pro Bowl, eliminating the AFC-NFC format in favor of captains picking 43 players per team regardless of conference.
In addition, kickoffs will be eliminated from the game as a safety measure, one of several changes to the game. A coin toss will determine which squad gets the game's opening possession. The ball will be placed at the 25-yard line at the start of the game and after scoring plays. Since there will be no kickoffs, the kick-return specialist Pro Bowl roster spot will be replaced with an additional defensive back spot.
The loss of a kick returner Pro Bowl spot angered Oakland Raiders returner Josh Cribbs, who said in a link from his twitter page that the game was now "tainted." He followed that up with another tweet.
I'm glad I made the pro bowl when I did doing what I love to do, & being the best at it...— Josh Cribbs (@JoshCribbs16) July 31, 2013
Chicago Bears kicker Robbie Gould, whose teammate Devin Hester is one of the most electric return men in the game, said he can understand the NFL excluding the kickoff for safety reasons.
"I think there may be a safety scenario behind it because you're talking about guys who probably never play special teams [playing in the Pro Bowl]. There may be some safety issues they've looked into. From that perspective, I can definitely understand that."
Gould, however, wonders if removing the kickoff will adversely affect the Pro Bowl in other ways.
"What about on-sides [kicks]? What about bloop kicks? If you can't kick off and you can't get the ball back if you're down and you want to steal a position and need to get the ball back, [you can't]. There are just a lot of what-ifs to it. I don't think it's perfect yet, but it'll get there," he said.
Voting for the game also will be changed, as conference affiliation no longer will be considered in determining the All-Star selections. The two leading vote-getters will be named captains and will be assisted by Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders and two NFL.com fantasy football champions in picking the two teams.
Among other changes:
• A two-minute warning will be added to the first and third quarters in addition to the traditional rule in the second and fourth quarters. Possession also will change hands after each quarter.
• Defenses will be allowed to play Cover 2 and press coverage. In the past, only man coverage had been allowed, except for goal-line situations.
• Changes will be made to the game clock during the two-minute warning, with the clock stopping if the offense doesn't gain at least 1 yard, in order to encourage offenses to try to gain yardage at the end of each quarter.
• In addition, the clock will start after an incomplete pass on the signal of the game referee except during the two-minute warnings and the final five minutes of the game.
• The game will use a 35-second/25-second play clock instead of the traditional 40-second/25-second clock.
• Also, the game clock will not stop on sacks of the quarterback, outside of the game's final two minutes.
The changes were proposed by NFL Players Association president Domonique Foxworth and were jointly announced Wednesday by the NFL and the union.
"As players, we wanted to keep the Pro Bowl to honor excellence in individual performance and connect with the fans in a different environment," Foxworth said in a statement. "To do that, I worked with a group of players to map out new ideas."
Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league was "very receptive to the ideas that Domonique and the players put forth."
"From there, our office worked closely with him in developing the concept. The players made it clear that they wanted to continue the Pro Bowl and were committed to making it better than ever. We think these changes will enhance the game for both fans and players," he said in the statement.
The Pro Bowl draft will be held Jan. 22 next year, and the game will be played Jan. 26 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.
ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter and ESPNChicago.com's Michael C. Wright contributed to this report.