Several proposed rule changes aimed at improving player safety during kickoffs will be presented to NFL team owners at next week's Spring League Meeting in Atlanta.
The proposals, which need to be approved by 24 of the 32 NFL team owners before being ratified for the 2018 season, will make kickoffs more like punts and limit full-speed collisions. The proposed adjustments were made in conjunction with special teams coaches and members of the league's Competition Committee during a player safety summit at the league's headquarters in New York earlier this month.
Here's a breakdown of the proposed changes that still need to be approved by team owners:
Some key takeaways from the proposals:
- Players on the kicking team cannot line up more than one yard from the point of the kickoff. The current rule allows players to line up five yards from the restraining line (typically 35-yard line), allowing them to have more of a running start before the kick.
- The wedge block has been eliminated. Only players who line up in the setup zone (between their own 40 and opponents' 45-yard line) can put together double-team blocks.
- Until the ball is touched or hits the ground, no player on the receiving team may cross the restraining line (typically its 45) or initiate a block. This forces blockers on the receiving team to run back and block, which greatly decreases the chance of an "attack" block that can result in a high-speed collision.
- When the ball hits the end zone, it's immediately ruled a touchback. There is no need for a player to down the ball in the end zone to initiate a touchback.
As NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported on NFL Up to the Minute Live, the proposals have the potential to make kickoffs more exciting since they place limits on blocking schemes.
The proposals, if approved, would collectively represent the second significant change made this offseason to improve player safety. In March, team owners approved an expanded helmet-hit rule that penalizes players who lower their heads and initiate contact on an opponent with their helmets.
The NFL has made 49 rule changes since 2002 to protect players, improve practice methods, better educate players and personnel on concussions and strengthen the league's medical protocols. The NFL deploys 29 medical professionals on the sidelines for each game. Working with the NFL Players Association, the league enforces a concussion protocol for players that has been instrumental in immediately identifying and diagnosing concussions and other head-related injuries.
The Spring League Meeting opens on Tuesday.