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Chiefs’ Harrison Butker may be removed from kickoffs due to new NFL rules

The Kansas City Chiefs are considering taking kicker Harrison Butker off kickoff duties for the upcoming season. But the decision has nothing to do with his recent controversial remarks during a commencement speech that made national headlines.

The new rules implemented in March dictate that any ball kicked into the “landing zone” from the goal line to the 20-yard line must be returned. No more fair catches. Balls that bounce from the landing zone into the end zone must either be returned or downed for a touchback.

Creating more action with actual returns could increasingly put kickers in a position where they have to tackle during a kickoff return. As Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub explained while speaking to reporters at OTAs on Thursday, their strategy will be to get the ball on the ground away from the opponent’s kick returner, allowing defenders to pursue before someone picks up the ball.

More importantly, Toub noted that the new rules and subsequent strategy, which the XFL has been using, gets the kicker involved in making a tackle more often.

“If you watch the XFL, we watched every play,” Toub said. “I bet kickers were involved in probably at least 25 to 40% of the tackles, you know, either trying to make a guy bounce back or making the tackle itself or just missing the tackle.”

Under those circumstances, Toub doesn’t want Butker frequently having to make tackles throughout the season. Fortunately for the Chiefs, they’re already set up to address this situation with safety Justin Reid as the emergency kicker.

Fans may remember Reid filling in at kicker during Kansas City’s Week 1 game versus the Arizona Cardinals during the 2022-23 season for seven kickoffs (with five touchbacks) and two extra points.

Toub added that Reid should make kickoff coverage better. Not only is he accustomed to pursuing and tackling as a safety, but opposing teams can’t direct a return toward a typical kicker who might not be able to make a play against blockers and ballcarriers.

“Justin can cover. I mean, he could kick, he can, and then he can go down there and make tackles,” said Toub. “You know, he’s an extra guy that they’re probably not accounting for. I mean, they know that that guy can go down to tackle, but a guy like Justin is a guy that they have to worry about. You have to get him blocked and you have to give up blocking somebody else.”

How other NFL teams handle the new kickoff rules when they’re not as well equipped for the situation as the Chiefs will certainly be something intriguing to monitor this coming season.

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