“This is a play we think is ready and ripe to be modernized,” Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, the chairman of the league’s competition committee, said during a conference call with reporters.
McKay said the competition committee will consider changes both from a player-safety standpoint and from a competitive aspect, based on the high rate of penalties on punts.
The NFL said it will accept crowdsourced ideas about the punt as part of its data analytics competition in its “1st and Future” program tied to the upcoming Super Bowl in February in Atlanta. The initiative is “designed to spur innovation in athlete safety and performance,” the league said in a written announcement.
McKay said that any suggestions derived from the program will be taken into consideration as part of the competition committee’s offseason deliberations about punts. Those deliberations likely will include consultations with special teams coaches from NFL teams, McKay said.
Last offseason, suggestions made by special teams coaches were incorporated into the rule changes for kickoffs that went into effect this season. Those changes, which included the elimination of all forms of “wedge” blocking and a ban on would-be tacklers getting a running start before the ball is kicked, were designed to make kickoffs more like punt plays, with prospective tacklers running down the field alongside blockers instead of meeting head-on in violent collisions far down the field.
The NFL characterized the changes as a last-ditch effort to save kickoffs from possible elimination in the future. League officials have called kickoffs the sport’s most hazardous play, with players suffering concussions at a far higher rate than on plays from the line of scrimmage.
NFL officials said earlier this season that, based on their early injury data, they were optimistic that the changes were working as intended and that the effort to prevent kickoffs from being eliminated would work.
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