Due to several rule changes adopted by National Football League owners, kickoffs occurring in the game will look drastically different. The changes are intended to reduce the number of dangerous collisions that take place during kickoff returns and there is a list of them:
- The kicking team must line up with five players on each side of the football
- The ball must be kicked before players on the kicking team can run to cover the kick
- The return team must line eight players in a set-up zone prior to the kick
- Return team players cannot block opponents while in the 15-yard setup zone. On most kicks, this zone will be located from the kicking team’s 35-yard line to midfield
- Wedges are no longer allowed to be formed by members of the return team
Tampa Bay Buccaneers special team’s coach Nate Kaczor is giving careful scrutiny to the rule changes in hopes of determining how they will affect his unit. Many in the league, including the man many consider to be the top coach, Bill Belichick believes the special teams game to be an integral ingredient in deciding the outcome of an NFL football game.
The main issue for Buccaneers players, as well as players of all the league’s teams, is to be afforded more safety in kickoff plays while not sacrificing any of the game’s excitement. Smart coaches like Kaczor also recognize that the rule changes in the kicking game can be used to improve his team’s chances of scoring more points.
The fact that players covering kicks of the kicking team will no longer be afforded a running start is huge. A fast running NFL player can cover approximately ten yards in a single second and by having them remain stationary until the ball is kicked will give kick-returners more room to operate.
Running lanes are also likely to be a little broader because by requiring that five coverage personnel line up on each side of the football teams can no longer overload the side of the field where the ball will be kicked.
Kaczor and other special teams coordinators will no doubt look to load up on speedy return men to take advantage of these rule changes as a team that has returned a kickoff for a touchdown in an NFL game have been victorious 62% of the time over the last ten years.