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How Colts special teams coordinator Brian Mason sees Anthony Gould fitting with NFL's new kickoff rule

Gould was an All-American punt returner at Oregon State in 2022, a year in which he took two punts back for touchdowns. 

As NFL teams begin to figure out what does and doesn't work with the league's new kickoff rule, a handful of players with collegiate returning experience went off the board on Day 3 of the 2024 NFL Draft.

Among them was Oregon State wide receiver Anthony Gould, a 2022 All-American punt returner, who the Colts selected with the first of their three fifth-round picks (No. 142 overall).

"This new kickoff return rule is going to change some things," general manager Chris Ballard said. "It's a little bit of an unknown right now but we think he's got – he's an explosive player with the ball in his hands, he has had a lot of success in college returning punts and he's a pretty good wideout so excited to get him."

Before we continue, here's an explainer from Colts special teams coordinator Brian Mason on what, exactly, kickoffs will look like in 2024:

The Colts this offseason emphasized being better on kick returns after the team only attempted nine returns during the 2023 season (notably, both the team's two primary returners – Dallis Flowers and Ashton Dulin – were on injured reserve by Week 5). Generating good field position through explosive returns on kickoffs is important to the Colts, and Mason sees Gould's explosive ability as fitting well with that vision.

"I think once we can get the guys that we had to start training camp last year back healthy and get Anthony to join that group, we're starting to get a really good group of returners that can help make a difference," Mason said. "I think Anthony being one of the top punt returners in college football is really exciting to get him to join our group. That skillset is something that we can use in the new kickoff model."

With space being condensed and speed being decreased in how kickoffs are covered, having someone not only with long speed but short-area burst to return kicks becomes important.

"It's going to be a little bit different than your traditional kickoff return rep where the kickoff returner might have had a bunch of space to be able to build up speed and be able to make his cuts," Mason said. "There could be a lot more confined space, punt return, punt returner-type of cuts and moves that are made. You look at more running backs or punt returners being used in some of those positions."

Not only does Gould have a strong track record as a collegiate punt returner – he averaged 16.4 yards per punt return at Oregon State – but he also has both the long speed (4.39-second 40-yard dash) and acceleration (1.49-second 10-yard split) to back up those numbers. Among all skill position players at the NFL Combine since 1999, Gould's 40 time was in the 92nd percentile and his 10-yard split was in the 95th percentile, according to

Mason and the rest of the NFL will have to adapt to the new kickoff rule on the fly over the next few months. The rule hasn't technically even been approved yet – that'll happen during this month's owner's meetings – and Mason expects the league to tweak certain aspects of it throughout training camp and into preseason games as teams begin to experiment with it.

Right now, teams can't really practice returns yet – no contact is allowed during OTAs – so once training camp begins, it'll be a sprint to figure things out and adapt to the NFL's tweaks before the regular season.

But the Colts believe having Gould on board, along with guys like Flowers and Dulin, gives them a good group of players to maximize returns once the regular season begins.

"it's definitely going to be an overwhelming amount of studying on the fly as we go," Mason said. "I think joint practice – any opportunity we have to joint practice is going to be huge because you get a really good feel and idea for using a lot of different people in different ways than maybe you do in a preseason game. That is going to be really big and important and really a big focus for that. Doing as much different things as we can in preseason games and have an experiment with a variety of different ideas is going to be huge, studying what all other 31 teams are doing so we can quickly adapt off of that. It's going to be a constant adjustment and change for sure."

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