INDIANAPOLIS — By as early as next week, kickoffs in the National Football League could become much more exciting — not to mention much safer.
The league’s 32 owners are expected to vote on several proposed rule changes at the annual Spring League Meeting in Atlanta, where the kickoff will be a huge point of emphasis after an informative player safety summit earlier in the month that included the league’s Competition Committee and various NFL special teams coaches.
In short: the league wants to see much fewer injuries on kickoffs that have been the result of the oftentimes high-speed collisions that the current rules allow. If the current proposals are passed by at least 24 of 32 team owners, then the kickoff could look much more like a punt play moving forward.
Here are some takeaways from the proposed changes, via NFL.com Digital Content Editor Austin Knoblauch:
*1. Players on the kicking team cannot line up more than one yard from the point of the kickoff. The current rule allows players to line up five yards from the restraining line (typically 35-yard line), allowing them to have more of a running start before the kick.
- The wedge block has been eliminated. Only players who line up in the setup zone (between their own 40 and opponents' 45-yard line) can put together double-team blocks.
- Until the ball is touched or hits the ground, no player on the receiving team may cross the restraining line (typically its 45) or initiate a block. This forces blockers on the receiving team to run back and block, which greatly decreases the chance of an "attack" block that can result in a high-speed collision.
- When the ball hits the end zone, it's immediately ruled a touchback. There is no need for a player to down the ball in the end zone to initiate a touchback.
Two key members of the Colts organization seem to be on board with the changes as proposed.
Kicker Adam Vinatieri said Thursday on The Rich Eisen Show that the direct result of the rule changes, if passed, will be a chess game of sorts by special teams coordinator across the league who will be trying to find out how to use the changes to their advantage.
“It’s really going to be interesting how special teams coaches try to find a way gain an advantage,” Vinatieri said. “Are they going to kick it short and make teams return it? Or are they going to go ahead and try to kick it deep to get a touchback?”
Colts general manager Chris Ballard also is in favor of a safer kickoff.
“As the NFL studies kickoffs and the rate of injuries that happen on kickoffs because of the high-speed collisions, we’ve got to make sure we make this game as safe as we can,” Ballard said Tuesday when asked about the proposed changes while speaking at a fundraiser in Zionsville, Ind. “So the new rules, in terms of what we’re tinkering with and thinking about doing, it’ll be interesting as it comes out. But most of it is to eliminate those high-speed collisions.
“The safest we can make our game, we want to do it,” Ballard continued. “And I don’t think they want to eliminate kickoffs, but making it safer where you can eliminate some of those high-speed, long-distance running collisions, we think will help it.”
Vinatieri and Ballard also agree on another key part of this whole process: they do not believe the kickoff should ultimately be eliminated entirely from the NFL.
“I’m still a bit of a traditionalist,” the 23-year NFL veteran Vinatieri said. “I hate it when football starts to change and it doesn’t look like football anymore. But I think these changes are probably going to be for the better.
“You can’t get rid of the kickoff 100 percent completely, I don’t think,” he continued. “You need the onside kick; you need some of that stuff at the end of the game. But anything that helps keeps guys on the field and helps alleviate major injuries and major concussions and stuff like that, it’s gotta be a positive thing.”