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Browns admit they're still trying to grasp new kickoff rules entering 2024 season

One of the major news items to emerge from the Annual League Meeting was a significant change to the kickoff. How NFL teams adjust in 2024, however, remains to be seen.

Take Cleveland, for example. The Browns are venturing into these uncharted waters by putting their own special teams coordinator, Bubba Ventrone, in the place of their players to get a feel for the new setup.

"Bubba's been in the indoor [facility], literally with a helmet on, taking drops, which is true," Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski recently said, via the Akron Beacon Journal. "So we want to be as prepared as we can be. But I don't know that there's any club that knows exactly how it's going to look."

Stefanski admitted everyone across the league is currently attempting to understand the new rules, which were essentially borrowed from the XFL (which has since merged with the USFL to become the UFL) and modified thanks to suggestions from NFL special teams coordinators. It requires plenty of drastic changes, including shifting the kickoff coverage unit downfield and requiring them all to remain stationary until the ball touches the ground or one of two returners.

The changes are motivated by two goals: Improve player safety by shortening the distance between kick coverage and kick return units -- long understood as the most dangerous play in football -- and bring intrigue back to a play that had been tempered by adjustments over the last decade.

Stefanski sees the potential in it. He and the rest of the league just aren't yet certain how to capitalize.

"So, we look at that as a great opportunity in this league to add an exciting play for this game, and it's another touch for an offensive player," Stefanski said. "It's another opportunity to get a tackle for a defensive player or an offensive player on special teams. We're excited about what it is, but we're working through it. I don't think anybody in the league can tell you exactly how it's going to look, but that's an opportunity for us so we've spent a lot of time on the board with it."

As part of their efforts, the Browns are doing what most every other club is likely turning to in April: film. But they can only gain so much before attempting to put it into practice, something that begins with offseason programs and organized team activities.

"Truth is none of us will really know until we get into it," general manager Andrew Berry said last week. "I mean, we've watched a ton of XFL film. Even though it's not the same design, we've had a lot -- I think Kevin mentioned probably earlier this week -- how much time they've put into it. … And I'm sure we're going to learn a lot as we get into the preseason and then the regular season with the new rule."

Buckle up, football fans. The preseason might be used to work out a few new kinks unseen in previous years. It might be rough at first, but if all goes according to plan, the kickoff should become an entertaining play for everyone once again.

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