The NFL’s overhaul of the kickoff, aimed either at saving it or setting the stage for its inevitable demise, includes a tweak that previously hasn’t gotten much/any emphasis: Players on the kicking team no longer will be permitted to voluntarily go out of bounds to avoid being blocked.
The penalty applies when the player steps on or beyond the boundary without being contacted, and it results in a five-yard penalty.
This tweak represents another example of the league’s effort to minimize high-speed collisions. If players can’t run out of bounds to avoid being blocked, they become less likely to gain a full head of steam before striking a player on the receiving team. The stated goal is to reduce concussions; the unspoken objective is to avoid catastrophic neck injuries that occur when players running directly at each other dip their helmets to brace for impact.
Although this twist to the rules will contribute to the effort to keep players from hitting each other while moving at top speed, it also will tend to set the stage for more returns, making it easier to ensure that would-be tacklers are blocked and not running free toward the player who is preparing to field the kickoff. More returns could lead to more concussions, which could lead to the elimination of the kickoff.