Patricia: New kickoff rules will have significant impact

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
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Lions return man Jamal Agnew

Allen Park — An NFL offseason tradition is rule changes and Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia weighed in on the biggest to be announced this past week — the overhauling of kickoffs.

The new rules will require five players to line up on either side of the kicker, as opposed to previously needing just four to one side. Additionally, at least two players on each side must line up outside the numbers.

The revamped process also eliminates the five-yard running start coverage players could get. Players will now line up evenly with the ball prior to the kick.

For the receiving team, eight of the 11 players will need to be within 15 yards of the setup zone, which begins 10 yards from where the ball is kicked. The NFL believes this will reduce some of the high-speed collisions on the plays.

Finally, wedge blocks, where two players combine to provide a shield for the returner, have been banned.

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While we won’t be able to fully understand how these changes will affect play or strategy until we see them in action, Patricia is expecting a significant impact.

“Yeah, I think, in general, it’s going to change a lot, just fundamentally and from a scheme standpoint, what the teams are allowed to do, obviously the alignments,” Patricia said. “There’s certainly some different, we’ll call them, some dangers that are going to show up that I think all of them aren’t really identified yet until all the coaches kind of put their heads together and say, ‘Hey this is a way for us to attack here,’ or ‘There might be an area here we could go after.’

“It will be interesting to see just exactly how teams approach the rule, and if they’re trying to force guys to return kicks or not, or pin them back and kind of use the field position battle there. It will be a lot of things to think about from a standpoint, ‘Are you playing inside? Are you playing outside? Are you playing altitude where balls are going to travel farther or you can hang it up higher?’ You know, all those strategic things that come into effect. It will just be a little different because of obviously the alignments where everybody’s in. So, we’ll have to see how that goes. We’re on it. We’re experimenting with it, taking a look at it, trying to scheme it up and then try to really problem solve it.”

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According to a Sporting News report, league studies showed concussions were five times more likely to occur on a kickoff than a typical offensive or defensive snap. These recent rule changes are part of a continuing effort to improve safety on what many believe is the game’s most dangerous play.

In 2015, the league moved touchbacks from the 20- to the 25-yard line, encouraging players to not bring the ball out of the end zone. This came four years after the league moved the kickoff line up five yards from the 30-yard line, increasing the ease teams could consistently kick the ball into the end zone.

More touchbacks probably wouldn't be a bad thing for the Lions. Despite having All-Pro punt returner Jamal Agnew on the roster, the team finished last in the NFL on kickoffs in 2017, averaging 18.2 yards on 32 attempts.

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