Velus Jones Jr.

Why Bears believe Velus Jones specifically will benefit from new rule for 2024 season

Could this be the change that helps Jones take off?

NBC Universal, Inc.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The NFL’s new kickoff rules have teams thinking creatively about how to best set up their offenses, while pinning back their opponents. The Bears have already said they’ll consider how new punter Tory Taylor could be a weapon on the play. Special teams coordinator Richard Hightower also singled out one potential return man who could benefit from the new rules the most.

“You can only think about a guy like Velus Jones,” Hightower said. “A guy like that with his type of skill set, with the speed and the power that he has, and he's coming full speed ahead at you, it's like a damn freight train running at you.”

The Bears drafted Jones in 2022 in part because they believed he could be an impact player on special teams. Several muffed punts in high leverage moments forced the team to turn to other options in that phase of the game, however. The team gave him another chance on kick returns last season, and he developed into an explosive option. Among players with at least 10 returns last season, Jones’ 27.2 yards/return ranked second, behind only KaVontae Turpin who had 29.2 yds/return.

Under the new rule, kickers will try to place the ball inside a “landing zone” from the 20-yard line to the end zone. Any kick that lands in the zone must be returned, but if a ball lands in the zone and trickles into the endzone it can be downed for a touchback at the 20-yard line. However if a kick hits in the endzone first, it can be downed for a touchback at the 30-yard line. Balls that go out the back of the endzone will also come out the 30. If a kickoff lands short of the zone, it will be blown dead and the ball will go to the 40-yard line.

Most important for the returners: Nobody on the field except for the returners themselves can move until the ball is caught, or hits the ground (except for the kicker, while he’s kicking of course). That should lead to more returns, and bigger returns.

“He's gonna get an opportunity to touch the ball three or four more times a game,” said Hightower. “We all know he's a very dynamic player with the ball in his hands. But this new rule, because of the landing zone, because of the league incentivizing returns, it's only going to have a really good effect for not only our whole return team but for a guy like that to really change the game.”

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