NFL votes to significantly alter kickoff rules in name of safety and to revive returns

Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Football

ORLANDO, Fla. — Get ready for NFL kickoffs to look a whole lot different next season.

In a 29-3 vote Tuesday, team owners voted in favor of a radical, one-year change to kickoffs in hopes of reviving one of the game's most exciting plays — while making it safer.

The new alignment will put the coverage and return teams much closer together at the kick, curtailing those violent collisions when players have long runways before crashing into each other. Touchbacks have become the norm in recent years. Only 22% of kickoffs were returned last season.

"Whether you like it or don't like it, you're going to watch it," New Orleans Saints special teams coach Darren Rizzi said after the hybrid kickoff rule was passed at the annual league meetings. "It's not going to be like the Super Bowl where there's 13 touchbacks and 12 of them kicked out of the end zone.

"Now it's going to be must-see TV."

Here's how the hybrid kickoff works:


The kicker will remain at the 35-yard line, but the other 10 players of the coverage team will line up on the opponent's 40, across from the members of the return team.

At least seven of those return-team members must line up in the five-yard area between the 30 and 35, called the "set-up zone." That means the return team has the option of placing up to three players between its 20- and 30-yard lines.

A maximum of two returners can be positioned in the "landing zone," located between the goal line and the 20.

If a kickoff lands in the landing zone but carries into the end zone where it's downed, the receiving team gets the ball at its 20. If the ball sails into the end zone and is downed — or goes out the back of the end zone — the receiving team starts at the 35.


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