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Campbell 'absolutely in favor' of new kickoff rule

ORLANDO – Lions head coach Dan Campbell and special teams coordinator Dave Fipp were already meeting and strategizing in Allen Park for the new kickoff rule before it passed in a vote by the owners Tuesday morning at the Annual League Meetings.

In one of the most significant rule changes in league history, the NFL is putting the kickoff back in play.

Last season, the NFL saw 1,970 touchbacks on kickoffs with a return rate of just 22 percent. The league was determined to put the kickoff back in the game, while also keeping player safety at the forefront.

Under the new rule, 10 players on the kickoff team – minus the kicker who will still kick off from the 35-yard line – will line up at the 40-yard line on the receiving team's side of the field. The receiving team will set up at its 35-yard line. Seven players from the receiving team must have their foot on the 35-yard line. The receiving team can also have two more players who are in the setup zone between the 30- and 35-yard lines, but who aren't touching the 35-yard line. Those two players will be lined up outside the hashes. The receiving team can also have two returners back deep.

There is now a landing zone between the receiving team's 20-yard line and goal line and any kick that lands in that area must be returned or downed. If downed, the receiving team gets the ball at the 20-yard line. If the ball is kicked into the end zone or out of the end zone the returning team gets the ball at the 30-yard line.

"Absolutely in favor of it," Campbell said Tuesday morning before the vote by the owners passed. "It gives us a chance to play special teams. What happened last year took a significant amount of plays out of the game and those were from special teams and you don't make it up anywhere else."

Campbell has always talked about the game being a three-phase game – offense, defense and special teams. He devotes a considerable amount of practice time to special teams, and general manager Brad Holmes always has special teams in mind when constructing the roster.

"We put an emphasis on it so I believe in it," Campbell said. "I think what's got a lot of people spooked is the unknown of it. That's what excites me. Fipp and I have already been back there talking about it, watching all those XFL clips and you're looking at different body types and you're looking at returners and you're looking at scheme and so I think the unknown is what the coaching is for. Mess with it, tinker with it and you figure out what's the best way to do it. How do you do it? I'm excited about it."

Campbell said the new rule will bring the returner position on kickoffs back into the game. That seems fitting in the same year the Hall of Fame is welcoming Devin Hester, the greatest returner in NFL history.

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