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How the 2024 kickoff rule change will work, with input from special teams coordinator Marquice Williams

The Falcons special teams coordinator, Marquice Williams, is excited to bring the play back to life.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Embrace the unknown.

That's how the Atlanta Falcons and special teams coordinator Marquice Williams are approaching the new kickoff rules approved for the 2024 season. The overhaul was announced at the Annual League Meeting back in March.

The rule change followed Super Bowl LVIII, which happened to be the first championship in NFL history where a kickoff was not returned.

"That play was becoming dead," Williams said. "Now we're able to bring this play back to life."

The majority of kickoffs last season ended in a fair catch. Well, a fair catch no longer exists. The play will be called dead.

The only thing about the new format that remains from the last rendition is the returners lining up at the 35-yard line. Otherwise, the kicking team lines up at the 40-yard line and the returning team sets up between the 30- and 35-yard line. No one — except the kicker or returners — can move a muscle until the ball is caught or hits the ground.

The kicker's sweet spot is now called the landing zone, and it is between the receiving teams' 20-yard line and goal line. Every ball that is fielded within those hashes must be returned.


"There's going to be over 600 more plays in the NFL," Williams said, "which is going to accumulate more yards, which is going to equal more points. …

"Yes, it is an unknown because this play hasn't been ran before. I know the XFL had a variation of it, but the way we're doing it in the NFL is a little bit different. And I'm excited. I think because it is an unknown, our players are embracing the unknown. We're going to embrace this opportunity to help our offense and defense with better field position, scoring points, eliminating points, probably taking the ball away and create some momentum."

Field position is, perhaps, the most significant factor now. Even without a return.

There are two easy paths in which the offense can automatically regain position at the 40-yard line: if the ball goes out of bounds or if a kick fails to reach the landing zone.

A kick dropping into the end zone is treated differently. If the ball goes out the back, it'll result in a touchback to the 35-yard line. If the ball remains inbounds, it's still considered live and needs to be returned or downed. The latter would lead to the offense obtaining possession also at the 35-yard line.

Say the ball hits inside the landing zone but then bounces into the end zone. Same thing. It's still live and needs to be returned or downed. The latter this time would bring the offense to the 20-yard line.

"Each and every game, you're guaranteed two plays, and those two places are kickoff (and) kickoff return," Williams said. "So, I'm excited about this. Because it's going to create so much more value for our players, it's going to create a lot of opportunities for players, not just our players, but players around the NFL."

There are a lot of changes on the horizon with this adjustment. One thing to remember is how many more possibilities should come from the upheaval. There will be a lot more space for returners to make a play, less running with players lined up farther downfield and — most importantly — increased opportunities to score.

The Falcons' first chance to test things out against an opponent will be Aug. 9 in their preseason opener against the Miami Dolphins. Then, Atlanta's official season opener is Sept. 8 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"As we go through this during preseason, as the season goes on, our scheme will evolve," Williams said. "It's going to be cool to see our players at the end of the day bring those calls to life."

Digital team reporter Terrin Waack contributed to this report.

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