It’s clear that the NFL is experimenting with the kickoff in the hopes of making it safer, but without any specific goal beyond simply making it safer. The play also will be different, given the changes that are expected to become official later this year.
“I think you’re gonna see less offensive linemen on this unit,” Saints coach Sean Payton, a member of the Competition Committee, explained during a visit to PFT Live. “I think you’re gonna see a more athletic player on this unit. I think you’re gonna have less space in the collisions, which the goal was at the beginning.”
The changes in the positioning (and possibly the composition) on the kickoff also could lead to various other unforeseen, by maybe not unwelcome, consequences.
“I’m not so sure that you’re not gonna see a handful of unique returns now when you have eight [blockers] inside that initial 15-yard zone,” Payton said. “I think there’s space and I also think there’s also opportunities that present themselves for the kicking team. Whether it’s not an onside [kick] but you know placing the ball in certain areas of the field maybe with the idea of trying to recover it.”
Whether the kickoff survives in this form ultimately depends on whether the play reduces the injury risk. Packers CEO Mark Murphy recently said players are five times more likely to suffer a concussion during a kickoff than a scrimmage play. So what reduced rate would be acceptable to the NFL?
“I don’t know that there’s been a rate we discussed,” Payton said regarding last week’s safety summit. “I think clearly we discussed making it safer. I think to the league’s credit having the group on hand that we did with the former players, special teams coaches, other head coaches to really have dialogue and discussion on improving our game and trying to improve the safety of a play like that. I think they did a great job and came back with some really significant changes that I think the fans will be excited still about. And yet I think we’ll see a dip in this number [of concussions].”
Time will tell whether that’s the case. If not, more changes could occur to the kickoff — including its possible elimination.