NFL teams gear up for kickoff rules changes

New rules impacting kickoffs during NFL football games will likely force teams to adapt their roster usage and kicking strategies. Here are a few factors teams are considering.



June 7, 2024 - 1:32 PM

Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker (7) converts a 24-yard field goal in the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers during Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium on Feb. 11, 2024, in Las Vegas. Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images/TNS

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs are considering the possibility of safety Justin Reid handling some kickoffs.

The Dallas Cowboys are hoping tiny return man KaVontae Turpin might finally break a big one two years after he basically made the team doing exactly that in the preseason.

Mostly, coaches and players in the NFL are wondering what they’re getting into with radical changes to the kickoff rule.

It’s no longer a “ dead, ceremonial play,” as league executive and former player Troy Vincent so flatly described it late last season, about three months before owners voted to change a rule that had been adopted in the name of safety, by reducing high-speed collisions.

The NFL is bringing the kickoff back to life, starting with teams investing time in offseason workouts — with plans for plenty more in training camps — into something that had become a pointless exercise.

“I haven’t (planned) training camp practices yet, but every day we’re going to be working either kickoff or kickoff return,” Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. “You still have to work punt, punt return and everything. I don’t need more time. I just need to change the schedule a little bit.”

There’s a lot to digest with changes that have their roots in the spring football leagues, with the NFL adding some of its own twists while wanting to ensure there wasn’t an increase in injuries.

Chart showing how players will line up for the new NFL kickoff rule.Photo by TNS

HERE’S AN easy place to start: Most players can’t move while the kick is in the air.

“I think everyone that sees it for the first time, it’s really strange because you see the kickoff and I’m standing right here and, it’s like you’re in space. You never see that happen without everyone moving,” San Francisco special teams coordinator Brian Schneider said.

“And so, it’s really like the music went off and everything, I was like in the ‘Twilight Zone’ and then when it happens, it’s just, it’s really fast.”

The standard kickoff is from the 35-yard line with the 10 coverage players lined up at the opposing 40. The return team has at least nine blockers lined up in a “set up zone” between their 30 and 35.

Two returners are inside the 20, and they’re the only ones besides the kicker who can move until either they catch the ball or it hits the ground. That’s when the coverage players and blockers converge.

The rule tries to build incentive for teams not to blast the ball into or beyond the end zone by moving touchbacks to the 30 from the 25.

The Chiefs would consider Reid for kickoffs on the theory that an extra tackler is needed, rather than a kicker with a usually slender build that would be considered a liability.

While it’s likely traditional kick return guys — think diminutive, shifty and speedy — would still have a role, there is a question of whether prototypical running backs could be useful.