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The 49ers, like all teams, are processing the massive change to the kickoff

The NFL has revolutionized the kickoff, turning it in the blink of an eye from a dead play into something that will be very much undead. And the consequences of the new approach, which has 19 or 20 players clustered together and not moving until the ball is caught or strikes the ground in the landing zone, remain largely unknown.

On Wednesday, 49ers special teams coordinator Brian Schneider spoke at length about the new rule and the vast changes it will be bringing to the game.

"In the offseason when you get the news it's a lot of anxiety because what you're looking at is, the only thing you really have to look at is the XFL and it's different too, than that," Schneider told reporters. "So you really try to do as much as you can until the players got here. Because before it was all in my brain and one thing would go to another and then all of a sudden, I think it's about here now for me, in terms of once we get the fundamentals together, once we ask the players to communicate with us, talk to us, what do you see? And once we kind of broke it down that way to get to, I think some fundamentals that will stick in terms of how to get there, and now we have to see where it goes. Because it’s different. That's for sure.”

He said he watched "a ton" of XFL tape, even though there are differences between the XFL approach (which wasn't adopted by the UFL) and the NFL's configuration. One big similarity is that, once the ball is kicked, most of the players will not be moving at all.

"I think everyone that sees it for the first time, it's really strange because you see the kickoff and I'm standing right here and it's just like, it's like you're in space," Schneider said. "You never see that happen without everyone moving. And so, it's really like the music went off and everything, I was like in the Twilight Zone and then when it happens it's just, it's really fast. So getting used to all that for the players and it is going to continue to evolve.”

Schneider sees it evolving through the offseason, the training camp, the preseason, and into the regular season.

“I think you're going through the whole season," Schneider said. "I mean, to me, if you don't look at this like a totally different play than anything we've coached, I think you're going to be playing catch up. So . . . the speed of contact, like last year, those guys are running full speed and there's a lot of things that happen in terms of what they can and can't do just by how fast they're running. That's out too now. So, all those things, you have to figure out how it works when it's alive. And we won't know until the first preseason, like when it's live, live. But, you know, that's what makes it interesting.”

One of the most interesting wrinkles will be the decisions made at return specialist. Schneider echoed prior comments from Broncos coach Sean Payton regarding the baseball skills that might be needed to catch a ball that comes in hot, given that hang time will mean nothing if no one can go until the ball is caught or hits the ground.

"It's all about the ball," Schneider said. "And so that's where we always start. So you always try to anticipate what kickers are going to do and it could be anywhere. So that's where we start preparing. So, is it going to be like a shortstop? Is it, you know, what type of fielding balls are you going to get? What type of guys are there? And then what type of runners are there? I mean, is it going to be better to have a bigger back where you can break through the arm tackles? Because everyone's going to be engaged. Is it going to be a quicker guy? But it all starts with the football. So that's where you build everything from and really trying to figure out where they're going to kick it, how they're going to kick it.”

Schneider said everyone is still figuring it out.

"There's 31 other coaches like me that don't know exactly if we're on the right track, what it's going to look like," Schneider said. "So more than anything, it's going to be adjusting. And so, right now, I feel good finally with the players and getting their input and working through it all. But that's going to be — it's exciting. I mean, I'm fired up. This is the coolest thing to happen in terms of in my coaching career because it’s — what are you going to do? You have a great opportunity to do something that's never been done before. So, it's a race to figure it out and it's going to be constantly adjusting.”

However it goes, Schneider sees it as good news for field position and scoring.

“I think an easier way to explain it is all the kickoff return teams have the advantage," Schneider said. "Every kickoff return team, just from the way the kickoff team is set up. If you think about it, we're on the 40-yard line with the same width we were when we were way back at the 35. So, backside almost geometry, I'm not very good at math, but those guys are almost eliminated just by alignment, if that makes sense. So, where it turns into, that's what everyone tries to figure out. So, all the fundamentals are there, but then the body types that are on there, we’ve just got to see what works. And we have our plan kind of going into it, but I think you’ve just got to be ready to adjust however it looks.”

It's an excellent, and overlooked, point. The kickoff team will be fanned out. Then, once the ball is caught (or strikes the ground), they'll have to move.

If the defenders don't realign, favoring one side of the field, a returner who can get through the first line of defense will have to beat only the kicker. If, in contrast, the coverage team converges in a way that creates multiple levels for the return specialist to navigate, an opening to the backside could blow the whole thing open.

So wake up, football fans. As I said earlier today on Pat McAfee's show, this is a huge deal. It's perhaps the biggest change to the game since at least the adoption of the two-point conversion, 30 years ago.

It might be bigger than that. Especially since it's taking a play that was M-I-A and giving it an E-N-E-M-A.