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Kickoff Rule Changes Should Bring Fireworks, Miles Killebrew Says

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Miles Killebrew expects kickoff returns to bring a lot more spark to the game this upcoming season under the new rules.

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Steelers SS Miles Killebrew
Steelers safety Miles Killebrew against the New England Patriots, Dec. 7, 2023 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — The NFL’s new kickoff rules are set to change special teams this season, and even the special teams aces are not sure how this will all work out. Teams are experimenting with new looks on the kickoff coverage and return units. Steelers special teams captain Miles Killebrew thinks it will bring more fireworks to that part of the game.

“It almost turns into a glorified stretch play,” Killebrew said. “I think you’re gonna see a lot of explosive plays this year. I think there’s gonna be a lot of touchdowns because once you get past that first layer, there’s no one else there. You don’t have the time for safeties to fold behind. There’s not multiple layers with guys running down the field at different speeds. It’s gonna be a very impactful play, and I think you’re gonna see a lot of explosiveness come from that area of the game.”

Mike Tomlin Steelers

Steelers safety Miles Killebrew and head coach Mike Tomlin against the Ravens, Oct. 8, 2023 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

In case you forgot exactly how the rules will stack up, they take from the XFL’s kickoff system from last spring. Instead of the usual kickoff, where the kick coverage team is next to the kicker, they will be lined up on the opposing 40-yard line, with the kick return team about ten yards away. Kickoffs will land inside the 20-yard line, and touchbacks will now come out to the 30-yard line.

In addition, players can not move while the play is in the air but will only be able to move once the ball is caught or touches the ground. The rule change was made to decrease injuries and bring the kickoff and kick return back to prominence. According to Killebrew, this turns into a run play, and the discipline in run lanes becomes more critical. Now, body types will change, and vision will become even more important for returners.

“Technique (in coverage) is going to be paramount,” Killebrew said. “I think a lot of times guys could get away from technique with just speed or pure aggression because there was time and distance to do so. But now it’s gonna be all technique because it’s gonna be close-quarters combat right now. You’re not gonna be able to hide behind speed. It’s gonna be really quick, it’s gonna be fast, and guys are gonna have to drop, get their blocks, and guys on the kickoff team are going to have to defeat those blocks very quickly, very efficiently. They can’t get reach, they can’t get out of their gaps because it’s gonna be a touchdown.”

As such, players like Killebrew and Cordarrelle Patterson become even more critical as special teams cogs. If Killebrew is right and kickoffs become a game-changing play, the Steelers’ investment in their special teams this offseason will be helpful. Many other teams followed that model and decided to upgrade their special teams’ infrastructure. Any schemes on these kickoffs or tricks will be revealed throughout the season so it should be fascinating to see it unfold.