Leadoff: How the NFL will change kickoffs this year

ajc.com

Credit: David Barnes

Credit: David Barnes

Kickoffs will be different in the NFL this year after team owners adopted a series of rule changes Tuesday that are designed to preserve the play by making it safer.

At their spring meetings in Atlanta, owners approved on a one-year basis the changes proposed by the league’s competition committee in consultation with special-teams coaches.

The changes will be reassessed after the 2018 season to determine if they have the intended effect of limiting high-speed collisions and reducing concussions. If they don’t, the NFL will try something else, up to and including elimination of kickoffs.

Here are five take-aways from the kickoff changes approved Tuesday:

> 1. Players on the kickoff team no longer will get running starts downfield because they will be allowed to line up no more than one yard behind the ball (the 34-yard line on kicks from the 35). In the past, they could line up five yards behind the ball (the 30-yard line on kicks from the 35).

> 2. At least eight of the 11 players on the kickoff-return unit must be within a 15-yard "setup zone" before the kickoff, moving more players closer to the spot of the kick to reduce speed and space on the play.

> 3. No wedge blocks will be permitted. Previously, two-man wedge blocks were allowed.

> 4. A kickoff team must have five players lined up on each side of the kicker. In the past, it could have four players on one side and six on the other.

> 5. The receiving team won't have to "down" the ball in the end zone for a touchback. It'll be a touchback if the ball touches the ground in the end zone without being touched by the receiving team.

Here’s more from the NFL on the changes:

LEADOFF LINKS

NFL owners welcomed a new member to their ranks at the league's spring meetings in Atlanta on Tuesday, voting unanimously to approve hedge-fund manager David Tepper as the owner of the Carolina Panthers.  The meetings will continue Wednesday, with the issue of player protests during the national anthem expected to generate more discussion and two future Super Bowl sites expected to be ratified. See story here.

> Falcons owner Arthur Blank expects an agreement to be reached on NFL players standing for the national anthem. Read Jeff Schultz's column here. 

> Ozzie Albies and Brandon McCarthy helped the Braves protect first place in the NL East with a 3-1 win over the Phillies on Tuesday night. See Gabriel Burns' report here.

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