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Top 2024 Seahawks Training Camp Storylines: Who Handles Return Duties & How Much Does The New Kickoff Rule Change Things?

The Seahawks will have several players competing for return jobs during camp, and adding to the intrigue is the significant change to the kickoff rule this year that should lead to more returns.


With Seahawks training camp kicking off later this month, is taking a look at 10 of the most intriguing storylines, position battles and players heading into the 2024 season. Today, we kick things off with a look at special teams, and the return game in particular. Check back tomorrow when we look at tight end, a position group that will look quite a bit different this season.

Key Special Teams Additions: TE Pharaoh Brown (free agent signing), WR Laviska Shenault Jr. (free agent signing), several rookies, roles TBD.

Key Special Teams Departures: LB/FB Nick Bellore (free agent), RB DeeJay Dallas (signed with Arizona).

The Seahawks kick off the 2024 season under new leadership, having hired Mike Macdonald to take over as head coach following Pete Carroll's memorable 14-year run at the helm, but while there are sure to be some differences following a coaching change, one that that will remain is an emphasis on special teams. Under Carroll the Seahawks were regularly one of the top performing teams in that phase of the game, and Macdonald no doubt plans to keep that going having spent most of his coaching career under the leadership of Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who spent nearly two decades as a special teams coach before eventually taking over the Ravens head job in 2008.

And the good news for the Seahawks is that Macdonald and new special teams coordinator Jay Harbaugh are inheriting several key special teams players from last season including kicker Jason Myers, punter Michael Dickson, long snapper Chris Stoll, and core special team players like Jon Rhattigan, Brady Russell, Derick Hall, Michael Jackson and Jerrick Reed II, though the latter is coming off a torn ACL so his availability for the start of the season is still uncertain.


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But while Harbaugh is starting off with plenty of talent in his first year as an NFL special teams coordinator, that doesn't mean he doesn't also have his work cut out for him, most notably because of the rule change approved this offseason that will drastically change the kickoff. The rule change, which is meant to both increase the number of kick returns while also making the play safer, has Harbaugh and every other special teams coach in the league working hard to figure out how best to cover kickoffs and also to create plays in the return game.

"We're having a blast," Harbaugh said earlier this offseason. "We're really excited about it. It's totally new for everybody, and it's just cool to see the different ideas people have and being able to take what we know from the old world of kickoff and kick return, and see what's still true and what's not true. It's just a fun process as you go, just trying different things and realizing, 'Hey, this might not be what we thought.' It's organized trial and error."

And while training camp and the preseason will be important for the Seahawks and other teams to sort out how to best adapt to the new rule, Harbaugh knows the work will continue into the regular season as teams wait to unveil their full repertoire of plays in the return and kick coverage games.

"Honestly, it'll probably be in the regular season," Harbaugh said, noting it will take several weeks to figure out "what works, what doesn't work, so I think you'll see probably for five, six, seven eight weeks, pretty rapid changes. And anyone that has an advantage early will probably be able to keep that advantage for a little while until people catch up."

Adding the intrigue when it comes to the return game is that neither the kickoff nor punt return jobs are even close to decided heading into camp.

Dee Eskridge handled kickoff duties at times each of the past two seasons, but due to injuries he was not able to hold down that job for full seasons. DeeJay Dallas, Seattle's punt returner all of last season and the kick returner for most of the year, signed with Arizona in free agency, which means the Seahawks will need a new punt returner and, along with Eskridge, another option or two on kick returns.

Harbaugh and other special teams coaches have noted that the setup of the new kickoff rule could require teams to put two returners on the field, meaning that even if Eskridge is healthy and a top candidate for that job, the Seahawks will probably want another kick returner ready to go. Among the options for that are free-agent addition receiver Laviska Shenault Jr., who has return experience both in college and the NFL, as well as undrafted rookie Dee Williams, who was a standout punt and kick returner at Tennessee, and second-year running back Kenny McIntosh, who was limited by injuries as a rookie, but who had success as a returner at Georgia.

With a top-notch punter and kicker already on the team, as well as several returning core special teamers, the Seahawks head into 2024 with a great foundation for continued success on special teams, but sorting out the return game, both in terms of the new rule and who will handle the return jobs, will be an important task for Jay Harbaugh and company in training camp and the preseason.

Check out the best photos from the offensive line during the team's 2024 offseason workout program.

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