Look for Ravens to take advantage of new kickoff rules

OWINGS MILLS — John Harbaugh forged his path in the NFL as a special teams coach.

Before arriving in Baltimore, Harbaugh spent eight years in Philadelphia leading their special teams units.

Even now, as the head coach of the Ravens, Harbaugh spends the early part of each practice working with the special teams players.

It’s why he’s excited about the new kickoff rules in the NFL this season.

The Ravens have a number of fast players on the roster in Tylan Wallace, Justice Hill, and Keaton Mitchell, who can take advantage of these new rules. Even newly signed Derrick Henry or wide receiver Zay Flowers could be in the mix to return kicks because there is less chance for injuries.

“Special teams-wise with [special teams coordinator] Chris Horton, who I think is an amazing coach, we’re going to look at the new kickoff rules, and then personnel and then scheme,” Harbaugh said. “Where can we tweak the scheme and the way we teach our techniques? So, that’s kind of set, but there are still ways we can improve.”

Under the new rule, 10 players on the kicking team and at least nine members on the receiving team will line up just 5 yards apart. The players are not allowed to begin running until the ball gets to the returner, which should slow the speed and lessen the impact during the play.

Only the kicker and one or two kickoff returners will line up separately from the players who are 5 yards apart.

The kicker will kick the ball from his 35-yard line. Ten of his teammates will line up on the other team’s 40-yard line. The receiving team’s nine or 10 blockers will line up on their 35-yard line. The kick must fall between the 20-yard line and the goal line.

A kick that goes out of bounds or is short of the 20-yard line will be awarded to the receiving team at the 40. A kick that sails into the end zone for a touchback will go to the receiving team’s 30-yard line.

This means the returners can find holes in the opposition much like a running back because there could be more space to run.

“The returner value will be less about top-end speed and burst, and more about vision and reacting,” Eric Galko, the director of operations for the Shrine Bowl who helped develop the NFL’s new kickoff rules, wrote on X. “In short, more “running back attacking the hole”-types will be more valuable than vs. ‘receivers navigating in the open field’ types.

“We at the XFL saw the teams with the most success had decisive, one-cut players rather than their fastest guys back there. Don’t be surprised if we see more RBs [or those with RB backgrounds] get more opportunities as returners, and for those returners to be a bit based on which “kick scheme” the team runs [man vs. zone].”

Hill has averaged 23.7 yards per return over his three seasons as a returner and returned a kick for a game-winning touchdown against the Rams last season.

Mitchell is still recovering from a torn ACL but his speed and elusiveness set up nicely to be a returner and spark some big plays.

Once Henry gets downhill, he is difficult to tackle.

The Ravens have the resources to take advantage of the new rules and will spend several months studying ways to boost their special teams.

“I’m excited about it,” Harbaugh said.

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