The NFL is planning further changes to the kickoff, hoping to reduce the number of high-speed collisions that happen on the play.
A proposed new rule that owners will vote on next week will make several changes to the kickoff. The key takeaways are:
1. The kicking team must line up within one yard of the line where the ball is kicked (typically the 35-yard line), and must have five players on each side of the kicker. That changes the rule that allowed players to line up five yards behind the spot where the ball is kicked to get a running start. Now the kicker will be able to get a running start, but everyone else will get one step at best.
2. At least eight of the 11 players on the receiving team must line up within 15 yards of their restraining line, which would typically mean between the kicking team’s 45-yard line and the receiving team’s 40-yard line.
3. At least two players on the kickoff team must be lined up outside the numbers, and two players between the numbers and the hashmark.
4. Until the ball is touched or hits the ground, players on the receiving team can’t cross the restraining line (typically the 45), or initiate a block within 15 yards of the line where the ball is kicked.
5. Wedge blocks will be eliminated. Past rule changes have limited wedge blocks to two players, but now even the two-man wedge will be banned.
6. The ball will be dead if it touches the ground in the end zone. In the past the returner could pick up the ball off the ground in the end zone and run it out, but now it would be a touchback immediately if it touches the ground in the end zone.
These rules are likely to result in fewer high-speed collisions on kickoffs and, the NFL hopes, fewer concussions.