Seahawks coach Pete Carroll says it's a race for NFL teams to figure out how to make the best use of the new rules.

Share story

In one breath, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll on Thursday referred to some of the recent rules changes in the NFL regarding kickoffs as “pretty drastic.’’

In the next, he said “I don’t think it’s going to affect the game at all.’’

If that sounds contradictory, it’s because Carroll also acknowledged the obvious — as is the case with most rules changes, you really don’t know how they will turn out until you see it on the field.

But like all NFL teams, the Seahawks are using OTAs (Organized Team Activities) to begin getting a sense of how the new kickoff rules, officially enacted earlier this week for the 2018 season — but subject to change in future years — may impact things.

The new rules are designed to try to limit injuries overall, and concussions in particular, which the league has determined happen more often on kickoffs than any other play.

Ultimately, the NFL changed seven different parts of the kickoff rule, all essentially aimed at minimizing the kind of full-speed contact that most often results in injuries (a Life magazine cover in the early 1970s infamously referred to kickoff teams as “suicide squads.’’)

Among the changes is eliminating running starts (kickoff teams will have to line up at no further back than the 34); that eight of the 11 men on the return team have to be lined up within 15 yards of what the league refers to as the “setup zone,’’ or where the ball is being kicked off; eliminating two-man wedge blocks; that the kickoff team must have five men on either side of the ball; and that the ball is dead if not touched by the receiving team but it then lands in the end zone, meaning the receiving team no longer has to down the ball.

“I think it’s just going to be rules that we have to abide by but we’re going to have to figure it out and figure out how to make the most of the new restrictions and stuff,’’ Carroll said “And the new alignments and things like that. We’re all challenged by it. It’s really, it’s kind of exciting because it’s a race here to figure it out, so we’re hopefully going to do a really good job with that.”

The elimination of wedges and that only three men can be deep has led to the thought that there will be more room for return men to run, and that teams will line up more returners rather than one returner behind a bunch of linemen blocking.

The Seahawks may well have had that in mind when they drafted Rashaad Penny in the first round — Penny returned an FBS-record tying seven kickoffs for touchdowns during his career at San Diego State.

Seattle could use Penny alongside Tyler Lockett in returns — J.D. McKissic also has return experience and could also maybe find his way on the field more.

Kickoff teams can still just try to blast the ball through the end zone and eliminate any return, though the conditions at CenturyLink Field make it harder for kickers to turn every kickoff into a touchback.

Carroll said figuring out how all of the changes will impact the game remains a work in progress that may not be solved until games are played.

“One of the differences may be just in personnel (and) the kind of personnel that you can use because of the criteria to now line up at about the 50-yard line and take off and run thirty-something yards,’’ Carroll said. “Are you going to have some guys sitting back there that you can use bigger people? It’s going to come, we think, from maybe more skilled athletes on those teams. We just have to learn what that’s going to mean in terms of the guys that make the roster and maybe a more general application of other athletes that haven’t been called on in some new areas. It’ll be fun to figure it out. We’re working at it and experimenting every day and trying to learn and gather as much information as we can. We really aren’t going to know until we start doing it in camp and when we get the pads on.”

Carroll said it was possible the new rules will change the team’s roster construction a little. Like all NFL teams, Seattle has often kept a handful of players who are considered “core’’ special teamers, whose main duty is to be a member of essentially every punt and kickoff coverage and return team. But the change in the rules might make keeping as many such players less of a priority and mean Seattle might use more starters on special teams.

“Yeah, it could,’’ Carroll said. “There will be a little bit of shift in the numbers and we’ll see how that works out.”