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How the 49ers’ special teams unit is adapting to the new NFL kickoff rule

How 49ers’ special teams are adapting to the new NFL kickoff rule originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Kickoffs will look much different during the 2023 NFL season thanks to another new — and, for some, controversial — rule.

League owners in late May voted to pass a one-year trial of a new measure that significantly changes how kickoffs work, allowing a kickoff returner to call for a fair catch anywhere inside his own 25-yard line and see the same result as a touchback , with the resulting possession placed at the team’s 25-yard line.

The rule was implemented in college football before the 2018 season, but the NFL’s version might not be permanent. Still, it’s a big change, and one the 49ers are preparing for in a variety of ways this offseason.

“Yeah, we’re doing a lot right now … Looking at college to see the different kicks, see how people have done it,” special teams coordinator Brian Schneider told reporters Wednesday. “We still don’t know all the rules yet, so we’re trying to go off the rules and what exactly that looks like, so it’s more or less just trying to figure out what we’re going to anticipate seeing, and then I think through preseason and once you start getting some tape on guys, you’ll see their philosophy.

“Are they going to fair catch it? For me, it’s more being prepared for our kickoff-return team and trying to anticipate, prepare them for whatever teams are going to try and do.”

Schneider, whose 2023 campaign will be his second with the 49ers, said he has seen countless kickoff rule changes over the years that have forced teams to adapt.

“There’s been like, 20 rules, so we’ll all adjust and we’ll figure it out,” he said.

After owners voted to pass the new rule, NFL Media’s Tom Pelissero reported the league’s special teams coordinators “unanimously opposed the change.“In proposing the new rule, the NFL cited player safety as one of its main reasons, with fewer kickoff returns certainly resulting in fewer violent collisions.

But some fear the new rule will result in more squib kicks, thus having the opposite effect. Schneider told reporters he isn’t sure if the new rule truly makes things any safer for players.

“Yeah, well when you say safety of the player, we’re all in favor of that, and so that’s where it starts, and we all agree on that,” Schneider said. “I don’t know if this necessarily addresses any of that. I think there could be more returns, there could be shorter kicks, there could be more collisions, there could be dirty balls like a squib or a bloop, so there’s going to be more coverages because of it, too, so I don’t know if we have enough of a sample set to really say, and like I said, I don’t even know the rules yet.

“They say it’s going to be like college, but is it?” There’s a lot of things to cover through that, so that’s the only thing. We’ll all figure it out. Everyone’s playing the same rules, and we just have to see where it goes from there.”

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With just over three months until the season starts, there’s still plenty of time for the 49ers to prepare.

“What happens on a penalty? What happens if you muff it when you fair catch?” Schneider asked reporters. “There’s a lot of things to work through that we don’t quite have the answers to yet, so we’ll just kind of go play it as we see it.”

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