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New Hybrid Kickoff, And No More Surprise Onside Kicks

Hope is that returns jump with new version and revive 'dying' play

The NFL, after much discussion, has yet another new kickoff it will implement in 2024, the idea to increase returns since "the play has been essentially dying," Saints special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi said in Orlando at the NFL annual meeting.

Modeled in part after what the XFL did during its run, the play essentially means everyone but the kicker and return man have to hold their position -- five yards apart at the return team's 40 and 35, respectively, while the kicker still boots from his own 35 -- until the ball is caught or it hits the ground in the "landing zone" between the goal line and the 20. Touchbacks will come out to the 30. (If you really, really want all the new specifics, here they are.)

Rizzi, who with Cowboys special teams coordinator John Fassel spearheaded the work with the league's special teams coordinators to come up with the rules (we'll see what Jeff Rodgers has to say as soon as we can), said based on the statistics before previous changes to kickoffs, "it'll be bringing back about 1,000 plays" a season.

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The return man will play a bigger role, and that's the idea, while still limiting the high-speed collisions (hence the five yards apart). It's a one-year experiment, but it feels like something here to stay.

"It'll be a little bit of a work in progress," Rizzi said, adding that some significant changes have been made to the XFL model.

One piece of collateral damage, although you can argue how much. The surprise onside kick will be no more, because it cannot be run with the new formation. The onside kick is another play the league is working to change at some point, because they rarely work now anyway. Under the new rules, a team can only try two onside kicks a game (still under the kickoff formation/rules that have been in place) and they have to be in the fourth quarter.

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