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Raiders special teams coordinator is excited about new NFL kickoff rules, and fans should be too

This offseason the NFL implemented the largest change to kickoff rules ever. It completely alters the way teams cover and block on kickoffs and returns.

First of all, the setup, which has the coverage team lining up at the return team’s 40-yard line. The landing zone for kickoffs is between the 20-yard-line and the end zone. And unlike previous rules, the coverage team doesn’t move with the kickoff of the ball. Now they can’t move until the ball reached the landing zone.

This is similar to the rules the XFL has, including the removal of the fair catch.

Raiders special teams coordinator Tom McMahon is really excited about the possibilities of these new rules and the creativity it opens up. Not to mention the increased value it places on special teams players.

“Very excited, and the players are excited,” said McMahon. “If you think about it, last year in the Super Bowl – I’ll just use that as an example – 13 touchbacks. Now it’s going to be 13 balls that are returned. So, returners are excited, and their value is going to skyrocket. . . The value skyrockets for the position players because now they’re covering every rep. So, the leading tackler in the league is going to probably go back to the early 2000s with 36 tackles on special teams, whereas it was only 16 tackles this last year. So, their value goes way up.”

What the NFL is hoping will be way down with these new rules are injuries.

“It’s very awkward to watch a ball hit and then be able to go,” McMahon continued. “And just remember within this play, what we want to do is take away space and speed. So, the 25-yard run is gone. And if you really think about what’s the biggest difference, just remember that last year at the 40-yard line, guys are going 19 to 21 miles an hour. We’re going zero. We’re going to zero, so we’re starting at nothing and you’re right there at about five yards. You’re waiting there to block me, so the collisions are at 7 miles an hour versus 19-20. So, it’s a big difference.”

The new rules will come with a considerable learning curve. Alignments have already changed just from the beginning of the offseason program to now based on feedback McMahon has gotten from both kicker Daniel Carlson as well as the return specialists.

This will be an ever evolving process too that will continue throughout the season.

“I’ll be honest with you, 100 percent of the season, because we’re going to steal ideas from other people,” said McMahon. “It’s brand new, it’s something nobody’s ever done. You’re going to steal from each other, you’re going to steal leverage from each other. I think it’ll go all the way through the Super Bowl on the last play.”

Carlson’s job on kickoffs will change a lot. Mostly because blasting a kick out the back of the end zone is no longer the objective. Doing that will result in the opposing team getting the ball at their own 30-yard-line. And without fair catches, moon shots are also no longer necessary. Now it’s all about precision and technique. Which will make the kicker’s job a lot more interesting.

“He loves it. He’s competitive,” McMahon said of Carlson. “He wants to beat the returners every single day. ‘I’m going to go out there and I want to be 10-for-10 if we have 10 kickoffs. I don’t want them to touch the ball, I want it to go into the endzone and I want to get a 20-yard line drive start, or I want them to have to come up and it hits and rolls and we’re going as the balls on the ground to give that kickoff team an advantage’. But he loves the challenge.”

Even touchbacks are not simple anymore. It was always if the ball went into the end zone, that was a touchback. Now if it goes in the end zone, it’s a live ball until the return team downs it.

These rules will essentially mean different qualities will be more important when it comes to special teams players.

“I think on kickoff return, I think you’re going to need a little more length,” McMahon added. “And when I say more length, it doesn’t mean that a corner can’t do it. But you need somebody with a little bit longer arms to sustain the blocks, you know what I mean? So, it’s a little bit more length from a kickoff return standpoint, other than that, no. You’re only going to be able to dress – and I think you guys all understand that – you got three tight ends, you got five linebackers, you got maybe four safeties. You got to find those guys that can win at the point of attack.”

Most new rules the NFL implements come with the focus on limiting injuries. But in most cases it also comes at the expense of the excitement of the game. This rule change may be one of those rare instances that achieves the objective while potentially making the game more exciting.

After all, as they say, Football Is Special Teams (FIST). And the new kickoff rules puts more of the game in the hands of special teams. Consequently making the game more dynamic. For that reason you can certainly see the reason for the excitement.

Story originally appeared on Raiders Wire