The kickoff is one of the plays that the NFL has taken an interest in improving and making safer, which led to the owners moving the touchback spot to the 25 yard line (though that could end up backfiring on their original intent of making it safer). So that rule change was met with opposition and confusion, and the NFL seems to be learning from it.
According to the USA Today’s Tom Pelissero, NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino held a conference call with all 32 special teams coordinators recently to discuss potential rule changes to the kickoff, particularly regarding how to make it safer. That conference call included Colts special teams coordinator Tom McMahon, as well as former Colts coach and current Jets coordinator Brant Boyer.
It’s smart for the league to consult the men who know special teams the best and to get their input on any potential changes that could be coming. And those changes are certainly coming - perhaps sooner rather than later. Though Pelissero wrote that it is “unlikely,” he notes that the coaches were also told to be prepared in case the league opted to try out a new rule or two during the preseason - just like they did with the longer extra point a few years ago.
Pelissero described one of the potential changes discussed on the call as having players on the kickoff unit start at the 35-yard line stationary instead of getting a five-yard running head start. Another thought is to treat the play like a punt as long as the ball goes 25 yards (to the return team’s 40 yard line), which would enable the kicking team to down the ball instead of making it a live ball. Also discussed was getting rid of wedges, attack blocks, and the “K” ball, while the coaches also raised the importance of enforcing illegal blindside blocks.
It’s unclear which, if any, of these rules will one day make it to the owners and be passed, but the thing that is made clear through all of this is that the NFL is serious about addressing the kickoff. They did that this year, though it might not be as effective as the owners think. Moving forward, then, it sounds like the league wants to get the opinion of the coaches who spend their time focusing on the area, which is a very smart thing. Hopefully those coaches can help the NFL figure out a way to address things in a reasonable manner that benefits both sides.