NFL already considering U-turn on controversial rule change

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NFL already considering U-turn on controversial rule change
NFL already considering U-turn on controversial rule change

The NFL is exploring further changes to kickoff rules after controversial measures were introduced for the 2023 season, with the league considering borrowing from Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's XFL.

Kickoffs have become an increasing safety concern for the NFL, with an elevated risk of head and neck injuries due to the head-on collisions they create with players sprinting toward each other from a long distance.

To mitigate the dangers, the league made the decision to introduce an amendment to the rules ahead of the new season, allowing kick returners to claim a fair catch anywhere between the goal line and the 25-yard line and the play will be blown dead with the ball placed at the 25.

Previously, a fair catch outside of the endzone would have seen the ball placed at the spot of the catch, therefore, the rule change reduces the incentive for coaches and players to attempt a kick return.

The decision, although made on safety grounds, has been met with widespread criticism from coaches, players and fans alike, with fears the strategy and skill of kickoffs will be removed from the game.

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However, according to ProFootballTalk, the NFL is considering further changes to the rules before the fair catch change even comes into effect, with eyes on the setup used by the XFL.

Held between February and May earlier this year, the XFL is a professional minor league backed by wrestling icon Johnson, and it has trialled several tweaks to the rules, including the regulations for kickoffs.

NFL already considering U-turn on controversial rule changeMore changes are in the offing for the NFL kickoff. (Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The NFL has been intrigued by the dynamic used in the XFL, which sees the kick taken from the kicking team's 35-yard line. The other 10 players on the kicking team are stationed at the receiving team's 35-yard line. Ten players from the receiving team stand on the 30-yard line and the returner is positioned to catch the kick around the goal line.

Under the XFL rules, only the kicker and the returner are allowed to move before the ball is touched by the returner, with the rule designed to limit players' ability to reach top speed and be involved in high-impact collisions, reducing the risks of injury.

The NFL is assessing the data collected by the XFL and considering its options, but it appears the unsatisfactory fair catch change for the 2023 season has a limited shelf life, with bosses searching for a more palatable solution.

However, according to the ProFootballTalk report, an anonymous veteran special teams coach believes the XFL model would result in an "ugly play" if it was deployed in the NFL with the returner getting "crushed".

“They have no idea how much different NFL players are,” they added “There will literally be nowhere to run.”

Sam Frost

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