EAGAN, Minn. — NFL special teams guidelines continue to shift.
On Tuesday, NFL team owners approved a proposal that would allow teams to kick off fair starts and safety kicks behind the 25-yard line to spot the ball at the 25-yard line.
The rule will go into effect for one season on a trial basis.
League officials have said that kickoff games generate the highest rate of concussions each year. Hanging kicks inside the 5-yard line raised particular concern in their cinematic study of hit incidents.
“We can’t just sit back and do nothing,” said Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy. “Sitting still and continuing to do anything was unacceptable. And I think that’s where the membership came in on this.”
Miller and NFL competition committee chairman Rich McKay declined to provide accurate data on concussion incidents in recent years, stating only that concussions at the start of a game were significantly higher than the other play in their reports.
According to the data, 19 players suffered a concussion in 2022, up from 14 in 2021 and 10 in 2020. Obtained and reported by Sports Illustrated. These 19 concussions have occurred across nearly 2,700 kickoffs – meaning that 99.3% of kickoff plays were concussion-free.
Special teams coaches across the league made those statements as they vehemently disagreed and rallied against the rule. Some felt that the confusion resulting from the rule change posed greater health risks than those currently affecting 0.7% of plays.
One of the special teams coordinators told Yahoo Sports that procedural questions and challenges remain.
“What if the ball is kicked from 50 after a penalty… does a fair catch still make the ball at 25?” the coach asked in a text message. “Or if I kick the ball out of the 20 after a penalty or a safety? What if the ball is muffled (rare but it will happen)? Little things but definitely some things we need to tackle to clean it up!”
The team owners made the verdict though, voting during their feature session. McKay said the row is to be expected.
“We tend to get ourselves to the right spot,” he said of safety-related rule changes, “but it’s never comfortable.”
How likely is the starting rule to become permanent?
NFL team owners have not agreed to this rule indefinitely.
In a year, they will re-evaluate whether to continue with that 25-yard line. The decision will take into account health and safety considerations, as well as the quality of the competition.
Are Kickoff Injuries Going Down? How often does this rule require teams to return kicks within the 25 compared to the frequency of returns last year?
League modeling predicts a reduction from returns on 38% of kickoffs to 31%. They predict that concussion rates at kickoff will decrease by 15%.
Modifying kick-off formats to reduce the distance between teams, and thus the defending team’s pursuit speed, remains a possibility in the near future. McKay and the competition committee wonder: If only 38% of kicks are returned, is there an alternative format that would call for returns on more than 60% of kicks? If so, will that excite the fans even more?
“If we can make it more competitive in a play that’s becoming more festive, we should always do that,” McKay said.
Miller added, “You want to make sure the gameplay is still exciting and relevant.”
Canceling kick-off matches entirely is not the committee’s current preference, but they weren’t ruled out either.
“We want to keep her in the game,” said McKay. “I don’t know we are Known We can keep it in the game. But we want to keep her in the game.”
Special teams coaches will keep their eyes peeled for notice.
The curator said: “You have to adapt quickly, change with the times.”
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