One of the most-discussed topics in NFL cycles this offseason is the kickoff and how to improve the safety aspect of the play. While there has been speculation that the play might be eliminated at some point – much to the chagrin of New England Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater, who passionately defended it in front of reporters – it now looks like the league is going to address the issue by altering the framework of rules surrounding it.
According to the Washington Post's Mark Maske, the latest proposal to change the rule book looks as follows:
The proposal being formulated Wednesday bans players on the kicking team from getting a running start on their way downfield. It eliminates all forms of “wedge” blocking by the receiving team. It requires eight of the 11 members of the receiving team to line up within 15 yards of the spot of the kickoff and bars hitting within those 15 yards. It keeps players on the kicking team from going in motion pre-kick.
The proposal aims at changing some of the aspects that make the kickoff one of the most violent plays in football by adapting from another phase of special teams: the punt. Especially the first part of the proposal – no more five-yard running starts for coverage players on the kicking team – is essentially the same approach currently in place on punt coverage, and aimed at reducing the impact of high-speed collisions.
The same is the goal of the proposed "wedge"-ban, which would leave only three men in the deep-field as opposed to the current five, and outlawing any pre-kick motion that would make setting up blocking schemes more difficult for the receiving team. Adding a 15-yard hit-free corridor between the two sides is aimed at further slowing down the whole kickoff operation and potentially limiting its injury risk.
Of course, the proposal does not come without its fair share of questions. The changes might allow receiving teams to more often run back kicks for significant gains if would-be tacklers are easier stopped due to the lower speed of play (which in turn might lead to more touchbacks). Meanwhile, onside kicks could also become a difficult affair depending on the definition of the non-hit zone.
Before becoming effective as a rule change, the proposal whatever it will ultimately look like needs to be approved by at least 24 of the NFL’s 32 teams at the upcoming owner meetings.