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Steelers trying to prepare for the new kickoff rule in the NFL

The NFL made it a point to eliminate the kickoff a few years ago in the name of player safety. That was until this past offseason.

In an effort to bring the play back in the game, the league has decided to make the kickoff a part of the game again, just with modified rules. These modifications have teams around the league trying to adjust to these new ruled on the fly, a challenge no one really saw coming.

All 32 teams, including the Pittsburgh Steelers have been spending plenty of time during their Organized Team Activities (OTAs) preparing for these new changes in the kickoff.

“The biggest change is it’s actually going to be a play now,” Steelers special teams captain and 2023 First-Team Associated Press All-Pro special teams player Miles Killebrew suggested. “Teams are incentivized to return the ball. With player safety initiatives taking the forefront of the attention, they’re taking a lot of running off of the play itself. We’re very interested here in Pittsburgh with making sure that we have a full grasp on the rules, because the rules are so fresh. Once we fully understand what can be utilized and what advantage we can gain, it’s only then that we’ll be able to start practicing that.”

The preparation has begun, but no one, even coaches and players, knows what this play will look like when pads are on and coaches start scheming for specific returns. What could it look like? According to Killebrew, a glorified stretch run play.

“It almost turns into a glorified stretch play,” he 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.”

It will be different, but will also add an exciting element to the game which has been lacking as kickoffs were once nothing more than a glorified touchback.

“Oh, 100 percent,” Killebrew insisted. “It’s different for all of us. As much as we can speculate, unless we’ve played in the XFL or the UFL we’ve never done this before. It’s gonna be fresh for all of us. I think there’s gonna be a lot more people watching this Hall of Fame Game than ever before, myself included. It’s probably gonna take the place of one of our (special teams) meetings (in training camp) because we just want to see it in real time.”

The name of the game will be technique and discipline. Blow an assignment or miss a gap and a returner could be one-on-one with the kicker.

“Technique (in coverage) is going to be paramount,” Killebrew continued. “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.”

This new kickoff approach might not last with the league, but 2024 could provide plenty of fireworks for the regular season.

Be sure to stay tuned to SCN for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of the offseason and get ready for the 2024 regular season.


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