The traditional start to football games will look a little different once the games begin in August. On Tuesday night, the NFL announced several new rules for the 2018 season that will affect the formations and how players are allowed to block on kickoff returns. The league announced seven new rules for kickoffs and released a video on their football operations Twitter account with graphics depicting them.
For a quick overview, the new rules are:
- The kickoff team must have five players on each side of the ball. That means no more loading up one side for on-sides kicks.
- The kickoff team cannot line up more than one yard behind the restraining line, meaning that players must be lined up at the 34-yard-line when the kickoff is at the 35. Previously, players could line up five yards back of the line.
- At least two players must be lined up outside the yard line number and two must be between the hashmarks and the yard number.
- For the receiving team, at least eight players must be inside the 15-yard set-up zone prior to the kick-off, i.e. between the opponents 45 and their own 40; only three players can be outside that zone.
- No wedge blocks are permitted for players outside the 15-yard set-up zone. So, the two men back with the kick returner cannot double team one player trying to cover the kick
- No blocking is allowed in the 15-yard area from the kicking team’s restraining line until the ball has been touched or touched the ground.
- The ball is dead if it is not touched by the receiving team and touches the ground in the end zone. So, kick returners no longer need to “down” the ball.
The league has been looking into making changes to kickoffs for months now in light of statistics that were compiled last year showing that concussions were five times more likely to occur on kickoffs than on other plays during games.