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Heath Farwell on Jaguars Preparing for New Kickoff Return Rule: "We've Learned a Lot This Spring"

060424 Heath OTA Presser

JACKSONVILLE – For NFL special teams coordinators, this offseason is … well …


"It's way different," Heath Farwell said.

Farwell is entering his sixth season as an NFL special teams coordinator, his third with the Jaguars. And the reason this offseason is so different for he and his NFL special teams coordinating brethren is they are navigating one of the league's bigger rules changes in recent memory.

It's the league's new kickoff/kickoff return rule, a change dramatic enough that Head Coach Doug Pederson this week said even with an offseason to prepare he doesn't quite know what to expect.

"There's still some mystery," Pederson said. "We're still working out some things. I think it's going to take preseason games to really fully understand what it's about."

Added Farwell, "We're embracing it. Let's embrace the difference about it and let's get more opportunity. This is a cool play. Once we learn it, our guys are loving it."

The league long has sought to make kickoff returns safer, with the play long considered one of the sport's most dangerous. But while previous rules changes have served to reduce the number of returns, this offseason's changes seek to increase the number of returns by changing the violent nature of the play.

"The fact that we can bring the play back, we're super excited," Farwell said. "It's going to be a lot of fun to see how it fits and how it works. I'm learning every day, though that's part of it."

The NFL kickoff rule for 2024, similar but not identical to one used in recent seasons by the XFL, essentially is as follows:

  • Kicks now will be from the kicking team's 35-yard-line, with the 10 players other than the kicker on the kicking team lining up on the receiving team's 40-yard line. Nine players from the receiving team must line up in a "set up area" between the receiving team's 35- and 30-yard lines. There also now will be a "landing zone" for kicks between the 20-yard line and goal line.
  • Any kick short of the landing zone is blown dead with the receiving team starting the possession with the ball at its 40-yard line. Any kick in the landing zone must be returned. A kick bouncing into the end zone can be returned or downed by the receiving team with the receiving team starting possession at its 20.
  • A kick into the end zone downed by the receiving team will result in the receiving team receiving possession at its 30 with a kick out of the back of the end zone – in the air or after a bounce – also resulting in the receiving team starting possession at its 30.
Jacksonville, Fla. — Jaguars special teams coordinator Heath Farwell during OTAs at the Miller Electric Center on May 20, 2024.

"It's good this offseason to really I think vet out what we can and can't do, with angles and blocks and different types of returns and all kinds of things that we're continuing to work through," Pederson said. "For us, it's been good because we get all our guys out there and get some stuff on tape that we can study and kind of work through some kinks that way."

Farwell said the rule has been a constant discussion point among special teams coordinators this offseason, adding that he recently consulted with former Jaguars special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis – now the special teams coordinator for the University of South Carolina – on the issue.

"We've learned a lot this spring," Farwell said. "We'll learn more in training camp, maybe some in preseason, depending on how much people show. Week 1 everybody is going to show their cards, and this is a copycat league. We're all going to look at each other like every other phase.

"We'll watch each other. Because of the unknown, we're going to learn a ton from Week 1 to Week 2 of the season."


  • Farwell on rookie kicker Cam Little, a sixth-round selection in the 2024 NFL Draft: "Every offseason I typically go on the road for a handful of schools and look at a position. Sometimes it's a returner, sometimes it's a kicker. I looked last season as well. It fit right. We love Cam. When I worked him out, we loved him. The dinner I had with him was fantastic. I just sensed he was very competitive. I really liked what he was doing. I thought he was a really cool guy to bring in here. We like the value in the sixth round and it worked out. It's a great opportunity. Obviously, [kicker] Riley [Patterson] has made some big kicks for us so we have a great competition with two really good kickers. It's very normal. We really liked Cam and thought it was a good opportunity to add to the program, add to the competitive position of kicker, and let's see what it looks like come preseason games and training camp."

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