The NFL has been tinkering with rules for years now, and special teams plays have been among the most tinkered with in recent years. The NFL claims it is trying to make the game safer, and removing or reducing some of the high impact special teams plays has been a recent trend.
It sounds like the tinkering will continue, and could impact the upcoming preseason. The league has used preseason to experiment with rules in the past, and the league recently spoke with special teams coaches to discuss some additional ideas. Nothing would change for the 2016 regular season, but we might see some changes in the preseason.
VP of officiating Dean Blandino conducted a conference call with the special teams coaches to get their thoughts on the kickoff play and ways to make it safer. Blandino asked for suggestions ahead of time and here are some of the ideas coaches brought up, according to USA Today NFL reporter Tom Pelissero:
- Starting the kickoff team from a stationary position at the 35-yard line, with no run-up;
- Mandating eight players on the return team line up a set distance closer to the ball, such as in front of their own 40- or 35-yard line;
- Outlawing all wedges;
- Outlawing “attack” blocks;
- Treating balls like punts if they hit the ground beyond the return team’s 40-yard line, so they could be downed by the kicking team, not recovered as live balls; and
- Eliminating the “K” ball.
The league changed the touchback rule this year, so that the ball will be brought out to the 25 instead of the 20. The idea is that this will result in fewer kicks brought out from the end zone. Special teams coaches and kickers have both said this is likely to increase returns because kickers will look to kick the ball higher and shorter to try and pin teams. It’s going to make for some interesting strategy this season.