Tonight’s exhibition games won’t just be putting the rookies to the test. They will also see the special team coaches using the scrimmages to work on new ideas for their kickoff game plans.
As fans are aware, the NFL has changed its helmet to helmet rule to improve safety and made a change to the catch rule after last year’s debacle when the Steelers were awarded a touchdown on the field, only for their crew in New York to take it away.
What many fans may not be aware of is the changes to kickoffs that have been made. According to an ESPN report in March, the NFL’s competition committee considered removing kickoffs from the game if the play wasn’t made safer, but they decided on the conservative route by introducing these changes:
- Players on the kicking team cannot line up more than one yard from the point of the kickoff. The previous rule allowed players to line up five yards from the restraining line (typically the 35-yard line), allowing them to have more of a running start before the kick.
- You have to have at least five players on each side of the kicker, and two of them have to be outside the numbers and two between the numbers and the hashes.
- The NFL eliminated the wedge block. Only players (must be eight) who line up in the 15-yard setup zone (between their own 40 and the opponent’s 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 or initiate a block.
- When the ball hits the end zone, a touchback is immediately called.
Danny Smith conducting the Steelers special teams
Commenting on theathletic.com, Steelers special teams coach Danny Smith noted how he had spent countless hours in the offseason coming up with ideas of how to combat the rule changes on both sides of the kickoff.
When asked by Mark Kaboly if the change means it’s going to be more wide open because eight people have to be up front, Smith replied:
“There is so much space, it’s unbelievable. Everybody is talking about the kickoff. I don’t think the kickoff is going to be that big of a change for me, personally. But the kickoff return is huge. Everybody wants to know about kickoffs. We used to have guys (running up from the) goal line timing it up. Then we moved them up to (a running start from) five yards, now we moved them up to one yard. That isn’t a big change for me. We used to call them Flying 40s, and now they are just 40-yard dashes.
The change is because of all that space. You have eight guys up there… you have three guys covering a 40-yard area, plus the width of the field and the end zone. It took the big linemen out of it because there are no more wedges back there anymore. The biggest change is going to be the trick kickers. The ones who are going to be able to place balls in different areas and things like that. I think that’s going to be the biggest change.”
The rule will be reassessed next offseason.
Danny Smith image courtesy @SteelUK.