Major Rule Changes In Store For NFL

This hit on Austin Collie in the Eagles' win over the Colts last season was heavily debated. (Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer)

Lockout or no lockout, decertification or no decertification, the NFL will hold its annual March meeting next week – albeit an abbreviated 2-day version – in New Orleans.

In between discussions of its labor situation, the league’s owners will vote on 3 major playing-rules proposals by the competition committee. Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, the chairman of the competition committee, was on a conference call this morning, along with NFL discipline czar Ray Anderson, and announced the 3 rule proposals.

The first is an expansion of the defenseless player rule. The committee has proposed that a receiver be protected until he can either protect himself of clearly becomes a runner.

``We’re try to expand that window to prevent that player from getting hit in the head or getting hit by the head,’’ McKay said.

McKay said the competition committee has proposed standardizing protection for all 8 defenseless-player categories, which include: a quarterback in the act of or just after throwing a pass, a receiver attempting to catch a pass, a runner who already is in the grasp of a tackler and his forward progress has been stopped, a punt returner or kickoff returner who is attempting to field a kick in the air, a player on the ground at the end of play, a punter or kicker during a return, a quarterback anytime after a change of possession, and lastly, a receiver who receives a blindside block.

The committee also has proposed adding a category that will prohibit illegal launching. It would essentially prohibit players from leaving their feet, springing forward and upward and delivering a blow with any part of his helmet or facemask.

The 2 other playing-rule proposals by the completion committee:

--Major modifications to the kickoff, including moving the kickoff line up to the 35-yard line from the 30, not allowing anybody on the kickoff team other than kicker to line up more than 5 yards from kickoff line and moving touchbacks from the 20 to the 25. Kickoffs that go out of bounds would still be placed at the 40-yard line. Also, all forms of the wedge block would be eliminated, including the 2-man wedge.

``The injury rate on kickoffs continues to be a real concern for us,’’ McKay said.

--Two modifications of instant replay, including the elimination of the third coaches’ challenge and confirmation by a replay official in the booth on all scoring plays, which already is the case in the last 2 minutes of both halves and overtime.

Anderson, who got a lot of attention last season for all of the fines he levied on players around the league for illegal hits, said he will continue to crack down on illegal hits and won’t hesitate to issue suspensions to repeat offenders. He also said coaches and clubs will be held liable for the actions of their players.

``The competition committee was fully supportive of the way discipline was handled,’’ Anderson said. ``But we always know there are ways to improve. We plan to do that with more communication in advance with players, clubs, coaches in regard to what is expected. But (the competition committee) fully supported aggressive protection of defensless players, and aggressive protection of unnecessary hits to the head and neck area and illegal helmet hits.

``There will be strong support in 2011 season for making sure that players understand that when warranted, suspensions will be an effective discipline for us. We don’t want to go there, but if we must, we’re prepared to do that. Because these rules are meant to protect everybody on the field.

``There is a clear acknowledgement that we need to be aggressive in disciplining, and we will give very clear advance notice to all players and all clubs to what that could potentially entail.’’

Memo to Asante Samuel: You'd better learn how to tackle, dude. Or you’re going to be watching some games from the sideline next year.