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Four Rule Changes Approved

DANA POINT, Calif.--The NFL's franchise owners approved four rule changes today related to player safety issues, including one that makes it illegal for a defensive player to hit a defenseless receiver in the head with a hit using the forearm or shoulder.

It already was illegal for a defender to deliver a helmet-to-helmet hit to a defenseless receiver. The new rule extends the protection given to the receiver who's in the act of catching the ball, also prohibiting hits to the receiver's helmet when the defender leads with his shoulder or delivers a forearm.

The rule change was recommended by the NFL's competition committee and was approved by at least three-quarters of the teams. The vote took place here today at the annual league meeting.

The owners also approved a rule giving similar protection to defenders, making it illegal for an offensive player to deliver a blindside block by using the helmet, shoulder or forearm to deliver a blow to a defensive player's head.

Two other safety-related rule changes that were approved apply to kickoffs and kickoff returns.

The kicking team now is prohibited from bunching too many players in the middle of the field, or on a single side of the field. That eliminates dangerous scrambles involving too many players on onside kicks.

The receiving team now is prohibited from using a blocking "wedge" of more than two players on a kickoff return.

Other rule changes proposed by the competition committee haven't been voted upon yet by the owners and remain pending.

One of them would expand the range of plays subject to instant replay review by making a fumble incorrectly ruled an incomplete pass initially subject to replay review.

That rule change would address the officiating gaffe made by referee Ed Hochuli in a game early this past season. Hochuli erroneously called a fumble by Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler an incomplete pass, negating a game-saving fumble recovery by the San Diego Chargers. Because the call was not subject to replay review, the Broncos retained possession of the ball and went on to score a touchdown and game-winning two-point conversion.

Under the proposed rule change, such a call could be reversed by instant replay and the defensive team could be awarded possession of the ball.

A vote on that proposal could come later today or Wednesday.

The competition committee enacted a change on its own to protect quarterbacks against low hits by defenders. As part of an officiating point of emphasis, the committee instructed officials to penalize any defensive player who lunges from the ground, after being knocked down by a blocker, and drives his head or shoulder into the quarterback's lower leg. It remains permissible for a defender to swipe at a quarterback's legs from the ground.

That change does not require a vote by the teams because it is an officiating point of emphasis, not a rule change. That move comes in the offseason after New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury on a low hit in last year's opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.

By Mark Maske  |  March 24, 2009; 1:16 PM ET  | Category:  League Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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"...the committee instructed officials to penalize any defensive player who lunges from the ground, after being knocked down by a blocker, and drives his head or shoulder into the quarterback's lower leg."

The NFL claims it is concerned with protecting player safety. Are fans seriously supposed to believe that banning rare occurrences such as a knocked-down player delivering a blow to a QB's lower leg will prevent injuries? Why not just ban hits to the lower legs entirely (I'm sure in a few years the NFL may get to this point).

As Mike Golic on ESPN Radio pointed out, if the same injury happened to Tyler Thigpen, would anyone care? As a Chicago Bears fan, I recall that the same thing did happen to Rex Grossman in a preseason game against St. Louis in 2005, which forced Grossman to miss the first 12 or 13 games of the season.

Here's my theory: for all the talk about changing the NFL's overtime rules, the day when the rule changes will be when one of the league's marquee teams--the Cowboys, Patriots, Giants or Jets--loses a playoff game in overtime without touching the ball. Then, the rule will be unfair.

Posted by: rschroeder1 | March 25, 2009 11:59 AM

Flag-football, eh?

Posted by: opita1 | March 24, 2009 10:04 PM

I understand the safety issue but you need to give some rights to the ball back to the DB otherwise Defenses will no longer exist

Posted by: LongTimeSkinsFan | March 24, 2009 9:35 PM

This is what killing the game.
Seriously I've been watching since the 60's. 70 and 80's made the game.
Now it's some CRAP!
Now every year these rich cats make up rules to protect players.
It's touch football!

Posted by: shamken | March 24, 2009 4:41 PM

Wow! The Steelers wide receivers hit so hard the league had to change the rules. Not the LB, not the linemen, the receivers!! NFL stands for Now For Ladies

Posted by: tsamm | March 24, 2009 4:38 PM

Jack Lambert said "they should just put a skirt on the quarterback" to distinguish him from real players. Apparently, wide receivers will now be scheduling a session with their tailors (or should I say "seamstresses?). I get the NFL's legitimate interest in protecting its inventory (you know they don't see players as people), but c'mon, rugby players have tremendous collisions -- with no protective equipment. These guys are surrounded by body armor. Let 'em play.

Posted by: salescoach | March 24, 2009 4:02 PM

Here is my problem with the defensless receiver rule, all the recievers know that if they put themselves in that position, they are automatically are getting a penalty for it so do the coaches in other words some of the recievers do that on purpose, so that they can get not only the penalty, but also those penalties are killers because they keep drives, alive it's that simple and it wouldn't, shock me if the coach asked him to do it on regular bases.

Posted by: rmnkevorkian | March 24, 2009 3:45 PM

Funny, funny stuff VM! That is where we are going.

Posted by: delOH | March 24, 2009 3:27 PM

No more wedge.

Posted by: alex35332 | March 24, 2009 2:48 PM

League is also studying to ban tackling in games. Defenses will only be allowed to touch offensive players, and when they do, the play is whistled dead.

The League is also studying a proposal that would ban all dancing and celebrating by defensive players after they make a key play. Since offensive players are banned from celebrating after scoring, defensive players will also be banned after makeing an interception or a sack.

Finally, the NFL will now require that all GM's/Presidents or those with the power of deciding player personell moves, that post 5 consecutive losing seasons, be fired by their organizations. Citing that the NFL is required to keep the quality of its teams high to attract more fans, the "Millen Rule" will go into effect starting next season.

Posted by: vmrg1974 | March 24, 2009 1:50 PM

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