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NFL team owners have approved a new rule bringing kickoff returns back to the game, making it an integral part once again. The rule takes elements of the kickoff rules used in the XFL and adapts them for the NFL, beginning in 2024 on a trial basis for one season. After that, the rule will be subject to renewal in 2025. The rule change was made with urgency before the draft, as it could impact the way teams structure their rosters. This change will open up more opportunities for returns, as there were 1,970 touchbacks on kickoffs last season that now could be returns.

The standard kickoff under the new rule would involve the ball being kicked from the 35-yard line, with the 10 kick coverage players lined up at the opposing 40, five on each side of the field. The return team would have at least nine blockers lined up between the 30- and 35-yard line, with at least seven of those players touching the 35. Up to two returners would be allowed inside the 20. Only the kicker and two returners would be allowed to move until the ball hits the ground or is touched by a returner inside the 20. Various scenarios for touchbacks and returns depending on where the ball lands in the end zone or if it goes out of bounds were outlined.

Rams coach Sean McVay, who is on the NFL Competition Committee, believes this rule change is good for the game and appreciates the efforts of special teams coordinators to keep the kickoff play relevant. Ravens coach John Harbaugh, a former special teams coordinator, feels that this move is drastic and the impact on the game remains to be determined. Previously, any touchback or fair catch in the field of play resulted in the receiving team getting the ball at their 25-yard line. With this new rule, there will be more opportunities for exciting plays and newness, adding to the overall excitement of the game.

The proposal for the new kickoff rule needed 24 out of 32 votes to pass, and it was approved by team owners. Chiefs coach Andy Reid supports this change, citing the 2,000 “dead plays” that occur currently on kickoffs. The new rule will bring more excitement and opportunities for returns, which will make kickoffs a significant aspect of the game once again. The rule change is a major overhaul to special teams and has been in the works for years before finally being approved. The new kickoff rule is set to bring a fresh and exciting dynamic to the game, allowing for more strategic plays and opportunities for teams to showcase their talent on special teams.

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