The kickoff rules have changed in the NFL.
The adjustments are designed to make the play safer for all 22 men on the field for that play. With the kicking team no longer able to have a five-yard head start and the receiving team allowed only three players outside the 15-yard "setup zone," kickoffs should look different even to the casual observer in 2018.
But according to special teams coordinator John Fassel, the return game will be significantly more different strategically than the kickoff.
"Kickoff, really the biggest thing is you can't get a running start and then you're bound by some formation restrictions. I don't think that's a big factor," Fassel said during the offseason program. "But in the kickoff return game, when you've got to have at least eight up, when you can't go two-man wedge — you're looking at different schematics, different bodies doing it. So, to me the rule changes will have a little bit more of a factor in teaching and implementing kickoff return than actual kickoff cover."
Los Angeles was arguably the best in the league when it comes to kick return last year, as returner Pharoh Cooper led the NFL with 27.4 yards per return. Cooper was named a first-team All-Pro and earned his first Pro Bowl appearance for his performance.
So how does he feel about the changes?
"As far as kick return, I feel like it favors the kick returning team," Cooper said. "They're losing five yards of sprinting, so we're going to take advantage of it and do what we do."
Despite Cooper's success under the old format, he feels like the rule change came at a great time.
"I'm sure teams are going to try and game plan a little differently than last year being that we were one of the top special teams units as far as kick returning, but we have to come harder than we did last year," Cooper said. "But as far as the new rules, everybody is still getting accustomed to it. We haven't done everything together as a whole unit, but we've been doing some individual work and trying to figure the whole thing out."
"I don't think it will affect Pharoh," Fassel said of the rules. "It will affect the guys blocking for him — what they're restricted to do and what they now have to do."
Cooper also feels he has a unique advantage when it comes to the new rules: Fassel is his coach.
"Our special teams unit, we all want to play for 'Bones,'" Cooper said, referring to Fassel's nickname. "He makes it so fun. He isn't one of those hard, strict, yelling coaches. He just lets you go out there, roam around, and have fun. As long as you're doing your job and you're competing, effort, playing for your teammates, it's fun. The meetings are always fun because he's just a cool, relaxed guy and everybody loves playing for him and we all love playing for each other on that special teams unit."