Tarik Cohen: New NFL rules will give kickoffs ‘more like a punt-return vibe’

SHARE Tarik Cohen: New NFL rules will give kickoffs ‘more like a punt-return vibe’

Bears running back Tarik Cohen runs during practice. (AP)

To Tarik Cohen, the NFL’s new kick-return rules look a lot like a punt return. And that’s a good thing.

The rule changes, presented Tuesday at the league’s spring meetings, mandate that kickoff teams line up with five players on either side of the ball only one yard off the line of scrimmage, rather than the previous five-yard window, and they must have at least two players outside the yard-line number and at least two between the yard-line number and the hash marks.

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Players on kick-return teams can no longer perform wedge blocks. Once the ball lands in the end zone, it becomes a touchback — whether a player touches it or not.

The goal is safety — players will be colliding at a lesser speed and, for the most part, one-on-one — but it might lead to more dynamic returns.

“It’s pretty cool,” Cohen, who returned 29 punts and 26 kickoffs last year, said Wednesday after an OTA practice. “It’s more one-on-one blocks now, so it’s really going to be like a punt-return vibe, that you have to depend on your one-on-one blocks. No wedges.”

A new helmet-hit rule, too

Also Tuesday, owners approved a rule that allows for players to be ejected for lowering their helmet to initiate contact against an opponent when on an unobstructed path and when the contact is otherwise avoidable.

“I’ve always taught them to play with their heads up,” Bears offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said. “Every time somebody’s head goes down, we’re pointing it out in the meeting room. They’ve gotta have their eyes up, and they have to see where they’re going, anyway. A lot of times it’s guys that at times are out of control or stumbling or overextended, in bad football position, that causes you to go down.”

Last week, outside linebacker Sam Acho said Bears defenders are aware of trying to keep their helmets up, citing Leonard Floyd’s two concussions in 2016 as a coaching point.

“As a team, we’re already focusing on that — head up, tackle the right way,” he said. “It’ll keep you healthy, and it’ll help out the team.”

This and that

Floyd and wide receiver Allen Robinson continue to recover from knee injuries while their teammates practice.

“Nothing new other than the arrow continues to go up with them,” coach Matt Nagy said. “Leonard’s been out here getting some stuff done. Same with Allen. I know that they’re champing at the bit to get out here. But we just need to be smart.”

† Nagy said inside linebacker Roquan Smith and guard James Daniels, the team’s first- and second-round picks, respectively, will have to earn their roles on the first team.

“It’s so hard to just come into a system and be the guy right away,” he said. “You’ve got to earn it. I think they understand that. I know they do. I’m sure in the end they’re going to respect it, too.”

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