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NFL owners to vote on new kickoff proposal this week

Could we be in store for more exciting kickoffs in 2018?

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Starting this Tuesday, the NFL Spring Meeting will take place in Atlanta, Georgia for two days. Most of the playing rule proposals for 2018 were already decided on a couple months ago, but the one outstanding matter that remains are changes to kickoffs.

To help explain the changes included in the proposal, NFL Football Operations came out with the following graphic.

Some of the proposed changes include:

  • Except for the kicker, no running start would be permitted by anyone on the kicking team.
  • Previously, the kicking team had to have at least 4 players on each side of the ball (so they could balance it as either 4 on one side vs. 6 on the other, or split it 5 vs. 5). The new rule would always force the kicking team to keep 5 players on each side of the ball.
  • For the receiving team, there is a 15-yard “setup zone,” and 8 players must be within this zone (see the blue area).
  • However, there is also a 15-yard separation between the two teams called the “no blocking zone.” Previously, return teams could run up and start initiating blocks as soon as the ball was kicked. Now, they must wait for the return team to reach the 50 yard line before initiating a block on kickoffs (assuming no penalties altered the starting location of the kickoff).
  • No wedge blocks are allowed, which is when two players run shoulder-to-shoulder to form a block. However, double team blocks, where two players come together to help on a block, is still allowed.
  • One change not shown in the graphic: if a kickoff goes into the end zone and is not touched by the receiving team, it will be called a touchback. Previously, there would’ve been a threat of the return team running down and recovering this for a long onside kick/touchdown.

Ben Volin of The Boston Globe has a great in-depth article highlighting the proposed changes, with some insight on how nine special teams coaches in the NFL, as opposed to the competition committee, were consulted to help come up with this proposal.

The whole purpose of the changes being made is for the plays to be considered “safer,” but one of the special teams coaches believes that it will also help open up more space for the return man, possibly creating for most exciting returns again:

“I think they are all positive in terms of making the play safer,” the coach said. “Actually, I think it may be a more exciting play, and more wide open now.”

He hopes that returners actually have more room for runbacks, given the spacing of the players near the line of scrimmage, and making the kicking team start from a standing position instead of a running start.

Kickoffs have become so diluted already, so at this point, it can’t get much worse (other than eliminating them altogether). I’m intrigued to see if this helps the return man find some more openings. 24 of 32 team owners would need to approve the proposal this week for it to pass.