NFL approves new kickoff rule that has Detroit Lions coaches excited

NFL approves new kickoff rule that has Detroit Lions coaches excited
NFL approves new kickoff rule that has Detroit Lions coaches excited

On Tuesday, the NFL adopted and approved a new, drastic change to the kickoff rules. The new rule is largely based on the XFL’s kickoff, which puts everyone but the kicker nearly all the way down the field before the ball is kicked.

The rule aims to bring back the kickoff, which had a record high percentage of touchbacks last year, while trying to improve player safety on what is one of the most dangerous plays in sports.

Here are the important parts of the rule (you can see the long rule here):

  • There is now a «scrimmage line» that forces everyone but the kicking team to be 25 yards in front of the kicker – or the opponent’s 40-yard line on a normal kickoff from the 35-yard line. Each of these players must have their front foot on the line, the other foot on the ground, and cannot move down until the kickoff is caught or touches the ground.
  • There is a «receiving team’s boundary line» which is 5 yards beyond the home team’s boundary line. Their own 35 yard line on a normal kickoff. The receiving team cannot pass beyond this until the ball is received or hits the ground.
  • There is a «setting zone» for the receiving team – where nine players from the receiving team must remain until the ball is received or hits the ground. This zone is between the receiving team’s boundary line and 5 yards behind it. Or between the 30 and 35 yard lines on normal kickoffs.
  • «Normal» touchbacks result in the ball being placed on the 30-yard line
  • A touchback that bounces in the «touchdown zone» (the goal line to the 20-yard line) and goes into the end zone puts the ball on the 20-yard line

Here’s what it looks like:

And here’s what it looked like in practice in the XFL:

The Detroit Lions have come out publicly in overwhelming support for the new kickoff rules. The main concern most seemed to have about the rule change was simply that it was drastic and had many unknowns, including potential harmful consequences. (As a result, the rule is in effect for a one-year trial period.)

However, Lions coach Dan Campbell not only welcomes the challenge of the unknown, but is excited about the endeavor.

«What I think has scared a lot of people is the unknown about it, and that’s what excites me,» Campbell said. “(Special teams coordinator Dave) Phipp and I have already been out there watching all this XFL footage and you look at different body types and returners and you look at a scheme. So I think coaching is the unknown. You can mess with it. You can tinker with it. You decide the best way to do it. How are you doing it? So I’m excited about that.”

The Lions are also pleased that kickoffs are becoming a huge part of the game again. With the low rate of kickoff returns over the past few years, much of special teams has essentially been done away with. But both Campbell and team president Rod Wood didn’t want that to happen.

“(The new rule change) gives us a chance to play special teams, you know?” Campbell said. “What happened last year, you really felt it took a significant number of plays out of the game and they were on special teams. You really don’t get it anywhere else. And so we just emphasize it. I believe in this.»

“We have a good special teams coach, we focus on special teams,” Wood said. «I think this is an opportunity to come up with something that will maybe be an asset.»

So there’s a big change coming on special teams in 2024, but the Lions are ready to embrace it and excited about it, too.

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