Speedy Dolphins Should Benefit from New Kickoff Rules

The Miami Dolphins, like the rest of the NFL, are working out how they will approach the kickoff since the new rules have been implemented. The Dolphins have the personnel to make things interesting.
Dolphins special teams coordinator Danny Crossman during a practice before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Germany last season.
Dolphins special teams coordinator Danny Crossman during a practice before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Germany last season. / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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Speed has been the Miami Dolphins’ calling card on offense the past couple of seasons, and the new NFL kickoff rules could give them yet another avenue to take advantage of their asset.

Special teams coordinator Danny Crossman said he's looking at the new kickoffs as though it were any other offensive play, exploring the "avenues and aspects" of what the new rule might mean.

"To me, the main part of this play is really two things," Crossman said. "No. 1, it is going to be a play that starts unlike any play has ever started. It starts with the ball either being caught or the ball hitting the ground as opposed to every other play it's either the snap or what we're all used to ... so that's a completely different animal. Secondly, the space aspect -- completely different. However ... you take all that out -- you're still doing the same thing. You're still blocking, getting off the blocks, and tackling, however that space differential may enable you to use and maybe look at some different players."

Among the new changes to the kickoff rule is the landing zone, between the 20-yard line and the receiving team's goal line. Any kickoff landing short will result in the play blowing dead and the receiving team taking over at its 40, and kicks that land in the end zone result in the receiving end starting on offense at its 30. Any kick in the landing zone must be returned and no fair catches are allowed.

All members of the kicking team (other than the kicker) will line up at the receiving team's 40-yard line, with the receiving team mandated to have nine players between its 30 and 35. All 19 of those players are not allowed to move until the ball hits the ground or a player in the landing zone.

Crossman said he is looking at "anybody" to participate on the kickoffs. Blockers, athletes, both — they could all prove useful to Crossman, as he says the new aspects of the kickoff could enable new players to be part of the play who weren't before.

The Dolphins were 10th in the NFL in kickoff return average in 2023 at 24.5 yards, but were dead last in kickoff coverage at 30.5, including a touchdown allowed against the Denver Broncos in Week 3 and a 76-yard return to start the second half against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17.

Head coach Mike McDaniel says it will be cool to see the new kickoffs, taking into account all of the factors that make kickoffs a "pretty impactful play."

"It's a big needle mover in terms of yards which forecast points," McDaniel said. "We've been having conversations from schematic to the various ways you want to use personnel. I think it opens up your roster because the lack of distance or the reduction of distance for the coverage teams makes it less substantial of an investment overall. So it may be guys that traditionally have been starters on defense or starters on offense, I think it gives you more flexibility to get starters on that unit for various reasons ... Wouldn't shock me if, shoot, every No. 1 receiver and every No. 1 running back in the league is raising their hands to return kicks Week 4."

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Michael France