Skip to main content

Rams News | Los Angeles Rams -

How Rams are preparing for new kickoff format

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – If you've ever played a game of freeze tag, you've probably got an idea of the basics of the NFL's new kickoff format.

That childhood game is the analogy Rams special teams coordinator Chase Blackburn used when describing one of the league's biggest changes this offseason.

"It's almost like freeze tag. You're frozen until the ball is touched or hits the ground," Blackburn said after Tuesday's OTA practice. "And it's just such a unique play with its own rules set right now."

Passed by the Competition Committee at the NFL Annual Meeting in March, that hybrid format – which will be on a one-season trial run – involves the following:

  • The kicker will still kick off from his 35-yard line, but the other 10 members of the kicking team will be lining up at the receiving team's 40-yard line. The play can't start until 10 members have at least one foot on the 40; five of those players must be on each side of the ball, which prevents the kicking team from loading up one side.
  • After kicking the ball, the kicker won't be able to cross midfield until the ball is in play – defined as the returning catching it, or the ball hitting the ground in the landing zone, or the ball getting to the endzone.
  • Meanwhile, the receiving team will have a 5-yard setup zone from its own 30 to its 35-yard line. Seven of the receiving team's players must have their foot on the 35-yard line. Players not on the 35 must be lined up in the setup zone outside the hash marks, and all players in the setup zone can't move until the kick has hit the ground or a player in the landing zone or the endzone.
  • No more than two returners may line up in the landing zone and and can move at any time before or during the kick.
  • Landing zone is defined as the area between the receiving team's goal line and its 20-yard line.
    • A kick that lands short of the landing zone is treated like a kickoff out of bounds, with the ball being spotted at the receiving team's 40-yard line.
    • A kick that hits in the landing zone must be returned.
    • A kick that hits the landing zone and then goes into the endzone must be returned or downed by the receiving team. If downed, it's a touchback to the receiving team's 20-yard line.
    • A kick that hits in the endzone and stays inbounds (returned or downed) – touchback to the receiving team's 30-yard line if downed
    • A kick that goes out of the back of the endzone (in the air or bounces) – touchback to the receiving team's 30-yard line.
    • No fair catch or signal is allowed.

All of those nuances and differences from the previous format make it a play that is still evolving. Blackburn also called it an "offense to defense play" because of the structure.

"I think that's all of us and all of our goals as an organization," Blackburn said of that evolution. "That's what's been great having (head coach) Sean (McVay) and the offensive guys involved in the ways we want to run some plays and return units. And then as well as having our defensive guys involved in the way we want cover and create some levels of the defense and it's more like an offensive-defensive play, so looking at it from that perspective, but then even the flights of the ball are going be completely different. Whether it's the hang time versus the type of kick you get, the yard line they're trying to put it to. All that stuff is completely different and that's the biggest feeler for everything is what are our drop angles? What are our depths and our limits?

"And most important thing as always, is that some things don't change. It's always about man meet ball."

In that regard, Phase 3 of OTAs – which began on May 20 for the Rams – marked an important time for getting a better grasp of the new kickoff format, since that when 11-on-11 drills (without live contact) are allowed.

From a personnel standpoint, the format is also causing special teams coaches to re-evaluate the body types used in that phase.

"Which body types can be used? And what schemes can you use?" Blackburn said. "And where can you place the ball with the kicker? How good and how accurate can they be? Because obviously you don't want leave one short of the 20 (yard line) and have the ball placed at the 40. So there's so many intricacies to the rule. I'm sure some things will still change before it's all said (and done). There's some things that aren't even set yet so there will be some maneuverability for us, but for us as special teams coaches, it's kind of a midstream adjust and that's how we always are in everything we've done."

While the new format may require reconfiguring that aspect of the special teams playbook, Blackburn said he's enjoyed the collaboration with Los Angeles' offensive and defensive coaches, and brainstorming ideas from some of those concepts from both sides of the ball.

"I know the intent of the rule," Blackburn said. "It would be interesting to see if it's what we were looking for to start."

Related Content