Los Angeles Rams Look to Exploit New Kickoff Rule: Correct Scheme Could Give Significant Early Season Advantage

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Still haven’t figured out the new NFL Kickoff Rules? Don’t worry. You’re not alone. Even Los Angeles Rams special team coordinator, Chase Blackburn, is still trying to wrap his mind around the best way to scheme up both the kicking and the receiving sides of one of the most sweeping rule changes in the game’s history. The one thing he is certain of is that whoever gains mastery of the changes will have a distinct advantage, especially early in the 2024 season.

“That’s one of the coolest things about the the role that we’re in right now, special teams coordinators, is whoever can get in front of this the fastest,” Blackburn said, “is probably going to have an advantage to win one or two games early in the season. [This will make] a big difference of maybe the outcome of what your season looks like in the long term.”

Blackburn spent about 10 minutes with the media after Tuesday’s organized team activities session fielding questions about how the team has gone about hammering out the best possible way to gain that significant early season advantage.

How Are The Los Angeles Rams Approaching the New Kickoff Rules?

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Los Angeles Rams Kicker, Joshua Karty: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Based on his stream-of-consciousness response, it is apparent that his ideas are fluid and evolving as practices reveal what works and what doesn’t. When asked how he has been describing the new rules to players,

“It’s like freeze tag almost. You’re frozen until the ball’s touched or hits the ground. It’s just such a unique play with its own rules kind of for set. Right now, [it is] still evolving with the play as it evolves.”

He expanded on his thinking about all the factors that go into how the changes affect the down. Both offensive and defensive coaches and players have been involved.

“Offensive guys involved in the ways we want to run some plays and return units. Then having our defensive guys involved in the way we want to cover and create some levels of the defense.”

Blackburn described it several times as an “offensive-defensive play”

As of now the Ram and Blackburn are looking to lay the groundwork for when helmets and pads come on at training camp at the end of July. But they aren’t waiting until then to ask all the important questions.

“What we’re looking for is developing some basic fundamentals, working through some concepts and some schemes as well as even some install progressions to get into training camp.”

“Once you feel it as a whole perspective, it changes your outlook. You think which body types can be used. And what scheme can you use. And where can you place the ball with the kicker. How good and how accurate can they be?”

Blackburn’s Return Scheme Thinking

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 I’ve had a bunch of guys in the office this offseason just talking about ways in which they thought maybe we could get some you know some gap schemes some zone plays. Some kind of inside zone where you roll one gap at a time back. Your trap schemes. Your toss cracks.

All those things come into play now, where you’re doing different things and trying to get it onto the second level. It’s the way I describe it, it’s almost like a fourth and short play.”

“There is no middle linebacker safety in the back end to stop it.”

“[If] it gets to the second level of the defense it’s probably a touchdown.” 

Who and How Many Rams Returners?

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Blackburn also discussed the trouble of having only one returner in the landing zone, which would allow the benefit of an additional blocker. Blackburn seemed to be leaning toward having two returners, as one played would have to cover the length and the width of the landing zone, 25×53.3 yards.

Blackburn was quite complimentary toward Boston Scott and his experience and leadership ability on special teams.

“[Scott’s] done a really nice job. He’s done both punt return and kick return. Awesome to have him here. Great veteran presence. Really taking a leadership role even immediately. In the punt team, moving him around from wing to personal protector, making the calls, going back and forth. Even today, as you if you guys saw it out here, today. Then obviously from a dual returner perspective just a great guy, great human, awesome teammate, and [he’s] really showing the way right now.

Blackburn also noted that newly drafted defensive end, Jared Verse, expressed interest in returning kicks. the idea garnered laughs from the media scrum.

No Kicker on Kickoffs?

The Kansas City Chiefs special teams coordinator, Dave Toub, floated the idea of using a defender as a kicker to ensure that the placekicker won’t be forced to make tackles but also to create more levels within the return defense. Blackburn acknowledged that the Rams had entertained the idea, but was skeptical a non-kicker would have the appropriate amount of finesse to place the ball accurately.

“You’re not looking to have your kicker make a ton of tackles and you don’t want to get hurt. So yeah there’s a little bit of thought that goes into it. But also again there’s not too many position players that you could bank on having 80% of the kicks without a traditional [kicker].

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