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How will the Bucs benefit from the NFL’s new kickoff rules?
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How will the Bucs benefit from the NFL’s new kickoff rules?

TAMPA – This NFL season, when the football kicks off, turning point after point and traveling line over line, there will be real anticipation for an electric play that could result in a touchdown instead of the annoying groan of another touchback.

The NFL has made a significant change designed to reduce injuries but increase and energize a game that had all but disappeared from the professional game.

“I love it. I think it’s good for the game,” said new Bucs special teams coach Thomas McGaughey. “It’s not a ceremonial play anymore. I think it’s something that really changes the game in a positive way.” I think it’s one of those deals where people will be surprised at the impact of the piece.

Last season, the touchback probability on a kickoff was 78%, meaning about 1 in 5 kickoffs were even returned. Essentially, the league could have decided to put the football on the 25-yard line.

With the new rules, the league will potentially add 2,000 plays that could score touchdowns.

The opening kickoff in a general stadium view during an NFL wild card playoff football game in January in Houston.
The opening kickoff in a general stadium view during an NFL wild card playoff football game in January in Houston. (MAT PATTERSON | AP)

The change is taken from the model the XFL used in 2020 and 2023.

This is how it works:

The ball will still be kicked from the 35-yard line and returners will start in much the same place as always.

But the remaining 20 players will be positioned differently on the field to reduce injuries and increase the likelihood of a game.

The 10 players of the kicking team will line up on the opponent’s 40-yard line. At least nine players from the returning team must line up between their own 35- and 30-yard lines. Because they are only 5 or 10 yards apart, these players cannot move until the kickoff is taken.

While players can still decide to return a kickoff from their own end zone, a touchback will now place the ball on the 30-yard line instead of the 25. If the ball reaches the landing zone between the 20 and the goal line , but in the end zone, it could be a touchback, but the ball is spotted on the 20-yard line.

McGaughey said the Bucs have not yet discussed the new rules with players during this phase of the offseason training program, but there is still plenty of time to do so.

“We’ll get there,” he said. “We just have to make sure everything is tight before we go down that road. It’s football. It’ll just be a little adjustment here, a little adjustment there. … The game isn’t going to change. The play won’t change. All it’s going to do is eliminate 30 yard running. The play remains the play.”

Maybe so, but it has broad implications.

Suddenly there is greater potential for a new game-changing or game-changing game. Last season, only four kickoffs were returned for touchdowns, the fewest in 40 years.

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By comparison, in the heyday there were 25 kickoff touchdowns in 2007 and 23 in 2010.

Texans running back Dameon Pierce (31) returns a kickoff for a touchdown during a December game against the Browns last season.
Texans running back Dameon Pierce (31) returns a kickoff for a touchdown during a December game against the Browns last season. (DAVID J. PHILLIP | AP)

The Bucs haven’t returned a kickoff for a touchdown since 2010, when Michael Spurlock returned one 89 yards in a 27-21 loss to the Falcons.

That’s not to be confused with when Spurlock became the first Bucs player to return a kickoff for a touchdown when he went 90 yards for a score in the first quarter against the Falcons in 2007. That ended a drought of 32 seasons and 1,865 attempts without reaching the ball. the end zone.

The new rules will have an impact on the type of players McGaughey will use at kickoff.

Since there are almost no players when the game starts, there will be a lot of one-on-one blocking battles.

Teams may choose to use bigger players, especially in the middle of the field.

With more kickoffs likely to be returned and with more defenders in a short space, running backs may be better options for returning kickoffs than speedy receivers who like to work in space. The same applies when the kicking team sets its personnel.

“It just depends on who the guy is back there giving the ball back, or guys,” McGaughey said. “I think it depends on the possible coverage of the boys. Do you have the body types? Has the coach seen schematically what he wants to do and how he wants to do it?

“It will all depend on a lot of that.”

Since rookies often have to contribute on special teams to be active on Sundays, a player like Oregon running back Bucky Irving could be in the mix to win the kickoff return job.

“If you look at all these guys, I think they have really good qualities as a team,” McGaughey said of the Bucs’ rookies. “Whether they are big, strong, fast or quick, they all have something. That’s a good thing. That’s good for them and that’s good for us. (General manager) Jason (Licht) and the guys have done a great job of taking the talent out and identifying them and picking them, the guys that are going to fit. You just never know.”

The Bucs’ leading kickoff returner last season was receiver Deven Thompkins, who has a career 21.1 kickoff return average.

What makes a good kickoff returner?

“I would say two things: you have to have really good speed and you have to be fearless,” McGaughey said. “… I call it running through the smoke. Sometimes you don’t know it’s a long valley, but you have to run through it. You have to accelerate as you go through it. You also have to have a really good vision, that vision on the second level to make the first man miss and just look further to the second level.

“Those guys are very special and have a very good vision.”

With the new rules, a kickoff return for a touchdown could be in the cards.

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