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Drastic changes coming to the kickoff



In another effort to improve player safety and the prevention of injuries on special teams, but at the same time, to also keep the foot in football, a new proposal to modify the rules governing the kickoff has been made, which will be voted on at this month’s Spring League Meeting in Atlanta. The proposal includes a number of changes that will amend Sections 1 and 2 of Rule 6 in the Playing Rules.

Update: The proposal passed a vote of the owners, however they revised the proposal to only be in effect for the 2018 season.


Among the changes are different safety precautions that take place before the kicker even swings his leg. The kicking team must have five players line up on each side of the kicker under the new proposal, amending the requirement for at least four players on each side. This portion of the new rules will mandate one formation for the kicking team, and prevent stacking on one side of the kicker. In addition, on each side of the kicker, at least two players will need to be lined up outside the numbers, and two other players must line up between the hashmarks and the numbers. Also, the five yard running start may be in jeopardy, as the new proposal requires the members of the kicking team to remain at most one yard behind the restraining line, which on a normal kickoff, is the 35-yard line.

There is also a formation requirement for the receiving team. At least eight players must be in a zone that is 15 yards from the ball, prior to the kickoff, and no more than three players can remain outside of this zone. This is referred to as the “setup zone” This allows for more players on the receiving team to move closer to where ball is kicked to lower the intense speed of the kickoff. Until the ball is touched or the ball hits the ground, no one on the receiving team can initiate a block in this zone. The receiving team players will not be able to cross its restraining line while the ball is still in the air either.


The new proposal eliminates all wedge blocks. In 2009, three-man wedge blocks were eliminated from the kickoff, and for the last nine seasons, two-man wedge blocks have been permitted. Now, under these new potential changes, only players who were initially lined up in the setup zone may double team a member of the kicking team. However, two players deliberately in tandem cannot lead the runner in a 2-player wedge in any circumstance.

Touchbacks may also been extended to include situations where the ball hits the ground in the end zone before it was touched by the receiving team, eliminating the need to “kneel down” in the end zone or otherwise down the ball to force a touchback. In 2016, a kickoff by the Jets bounced untouched into the end zone. Buffalo, the receiving team, did not touch the ball, and the Jets recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. Once the ball goes ten yards, it is a live ball, and the kicking team may recover, but not advance the kick. However, this would not be a touchdown for the Jets under the new proposal. The instant the ball touches down in the end zone — unless Buffalo touched the ball in the field of play first — it is an automatic touchback, disallowing the Jets to recover.

When conventional onside kicks are concerned, kickers usually kick the ball directly into the ground to pop it up. However, if the kicker instead chooses to pop it up, the receiving team can’t cross the 45-yard line until it touches a player or the ground. This potentially could become a tactic to force a re-kick by drawing the receiving team offside. A typical “hopped” onside kick will not restrict the receiving team in this way.

This new proposal will go to vote at the Spring League Meeting on May 21. A 2/3 vote is required to pass these new changes. While the kickoff has seen many changes over the years, this may be one of the biggest overhauls of the play in league history.

Image: Washington team photo

Cam Filipe is a forensic scientist and has been involved in football officiating for 12 years. Cam is in his fourth season as a high school football official. This is his ninth season covering NFL officiating for Football Zebras.

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