One of the most interesting questions heading into the 2023 NFL season is how teams will react to the new kickoff rules that were approved by the owners last month. Being able to call for a fair-catch and move the ball out to the 25-yard line is a big change, and it will likely bring some big changes to how kickoffs are executed and how teams try to approach their return game.
San Francisco 49ers special teams coordinator Brian Schneider says his team is still working through how to react to the new rules, largely because they haven't been implemented yet and it is therefore difficult to react to how they work in action.
"Yeah, we're doing a lot right now," Schneider told reporters Wednesday, per NBC Sports Bay Area. "Looking at college to see the different kicks, see how people have done it. We still don't know all the rules yet, so we're trying to go off the rules and what exactly that looks like, so it's more or less just trying to figure out what we're going to anticipate seeing, and then I think through preseason and once you start getting some tape on guys, you'll see their philosophy. Are they going to fair catch it? For me, it's more being prepared for our kickoff-return team and trying to anticipate, prepare them for whatever teams are going to try and do."
Schneider also questioned whether the new rules are actually good for player safety, which was part of the league's rationale for passing them.
"I don't know if this necessarily addresses any of that," he said. "I think there could be more returns, there could be shorter kicks, there could be more collisions, there could be dirty balls like a squib or a bloop, so there's going to be more coverages because of it, too, so I don't know if we have enough of a sample set to really say, and like I said, I don't even know the rules yet."
Kickoffs have been considered among the most dangerous plays in the sport due to the volume of concussions suffered on those plays compared with others, and one of the league's goals is to have fewer kicks actually returned. But teams will surely try to figure out how to game the rules so they don't give away an extra five yards of field position, and that could have unexpected effects. It will then be up to the league to react, which will force teams to change tactics, which will start the whole cycle over again.