Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jaylen Warren said Thursday that the team’s special teams coaches were considering using quarterback Justin Fields as a kick returner. Fields, known for his speed, is expected to be the backup quarterback to Russell Wilson entering the season.

“Our special teams coordinator was talking about Justin Fields being back there,” Warren said on the Not Just Football podcast. “We’re like, ‘Hold up, hold up.’ We looked at him like, ‘Justin Fields is about to be back there?’ I don’t know. I think it’s cool.”

Based on Warren’s tone while telling the story, the plans were never completely serious and have likely been nixed since. With new kickoff procedures taking effect in the 2024 NFL season, it is clear that special teams coaches across the league are already considering new strategies.

While kickers will still kick off to the receiving team from their 35-yard line, defenders on the kicking team will now line up at their opponents’ 40-yard line, eliminating the running start. The receiving team may have up to two players near their own end zone to receive the kick, with the rest of the unit lining up between their own 30- and 35-yard lines.

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The changes were made to make kickoffs, often cited as the most dangerous plays in football, safer and prevent special teams injuries. Beyond limited use in alternative leagues, however, a more practicable theory needs to be surrounding the play to which coaches can refer. It is unlikely that teams will try anything as radical as putting their backup quarterbacks in the end zone, but they are sure to test the limits of the new format to find effective return methods.

This will be Fields’ first season in Pittsburgh after he was traded away by the Chicago Bears, who plan to begin a new rebuild around 2024 first-overall pick Caleb Williams.

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