These five changes to the NFL kickoff are here to stay.
Kickoffs will continue to look a little different in 2019 after the NFL voted on Tuesday to make permanent the rule changes that were implemented in 2018.
The rules, which were agreed to last May, do not look to increase touchbacks or decrease returns but will alter the look of kickoffs for viewers at home and in the stands. One of the most noticeable changes will be apparent as soon as teams lineup, as players on the kicking team will not be allowed to receive a running start.
On the receiving team, players cannot cross the restraining line until the ball hits the ground or is secured by the returner.
According to the NFL, the changes resulted in a 38% reduction in kickoff concussions in 2018 compared to 2015-2017.
Here is an overview of the five changes that will remain heading into the 2019-2020 NFL season.
No running start:
Kicking teams will no longer be allowed to sprint to the 35-yard-line before the ball is booted to the receiving team. All kickoff coverage members must be stationary before the ball is kicked.
"Setup zone" created:
The league will require eight of the 11 return men to line up within 15 yards of the ball. Taking away the number of players near the central kickoff returners should reduce the speed and frequency of violent collisions in the open field.
No blocking in setup zone:
Blocking in the setup zone will not be allowed until the ball is caught or hits the ground. Blockers for the return team will be forced to retreat once the ball is kicked, then engage with defenders once the ball is received.
End of the wedge:
Once a specialty of return teams across the league, the NFL has eliminated wedge blocks, in which players form a connected blocking brigade in front of the return man. The league moved to allowing only two-man wedges in 2009, now outlawing them altogether in 2018.
Kickoff teams must have at least five men on each side of the ball. The league instituted this policy in attempt to create free coverage runners downfield.