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Details Of New Kickoff Proposal Finalized, Including Automatic Touchbacks

The next owners meeting will take place next week. There are some important things on the agenda for that time, first and foremost working to finalize the sale of the Carolina Panthers to Pittsburgh Steelers minority owner David Tepper, after which he will be responsible for selling off his share of the franchise.

For the more on-field concerns, a major puzzle piece will be to figure out how the inclusion of video review is going to affect the new lowering of the helmet rule, which has been perhaps the single biggest controversy of the offseason.

The other major item on the agenda is to ‘fix’ the kickoff, a phrase that when uttered is surely met by sighs of exasperation and cries to ‘just leave it alone already’. But the league seems to be viewing this opportunity as a last-ditch effort to save the kickoff, as opposed to outright eliminating it in the name of player safety.

While we’ve previously talked about the speculation over what the planned changes are, we now actually have something concrete to work with: that is, precisely the language of the rule that the owners will be voting on next week. And the changes do go beyond what I’ve written about in the past.

As Michael David Smith runs down for Pro Football Talk, the requirement that the kicking team does not receive a running start remains in place. They must line up within a yard of the line of scrimmage, and five players must be on each side of the kicker.

Also carrying over from what has been previously suggested is the limitation of the receiving team that requires they have at least eight of their 11 personnel lined up within 15 yards of their restraining line (also known as the setup zone), which under normal circumstances would be the 45-yard line. So in other words eight of 11 players would have to be no further back than the 30-yard line.

Bits that I believe are new inclusions follow. The kickoff team must have at least two players lined up outside the numbers, and another two between the numbers and the hashmarks.

Most notably, no player on the receiving team may advance beyond the restraining line until the ball is put into play by either hitting the ground or a player or being fielded. They also cannot initiate a block within 15 yards of the kicking line until the ball is in play.

Another new addition is the stipulation that a play is to be blown dead if the ball touches the ground in the end zone. Now it would immediately trigger a touchback. Previously, a return would have the option of picking the ball up and attempting to advance it.

Yet another carryover is the elimination of all wedge blocks. Previous rules restricting wedge blocks limited them to just two players. Now even those would be eliminated. Only players within the 15-yard setup zone are even permitted to perform a ‘double-team’ block (distinct from a wedge block), so the upback would be unable to do that, for example.

Of course, the rule needs to pass in order for it to come into effect. I would assume that it is expected to pass. The league held a summit earlier this month with participation from owners, coaches, players, and officials, so one would think such a group effort would result in people being on the same page.

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