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Coaches prepare for new NFL rules


The NFL showed its commitment to player safety on Tuesday, passing four player safety rules for next season and adjusting the calls on tackling quarterbacks at the annual league meetings.

The adjustment, which is being called "The Brady Rule," stipulates that defenders who are knocked to the ground no longer can lunge into quarterbacks if the play is in progress. Kansas City safety Bernard Pollard did just that on the hit that ended Tom Brady's season in the 2008 opener.

Since the "Brady rule" was not a new rule, it did not require a vote from the owners. All 32 teams did vote in these four rules:

  1. A 15-yard penalty will be enforced if a player delivers a blindside block to the head of a defender using his helmet, forearm or shoulder. This rule was provoked by the block Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward made a block made on Cincinnati linebacker Keith Rivers, which resulted in a broken jaw.

{QUOTE}2. A 15-yard penalty will be enforced if a defender hits a defenseless receiver in the head or neck with his forearm or shoulder. In the past, unnecessary roughness was called on a defender if he delivered a helmet hit to a defenseless receiver.

  1. On kickoffs, no more than two players can form a blocking wedge. A 15-yard penalty will be called if three or more players line up shoulder-to-shoulder within two yards of each other, and it will be enforced at the spot of the wedge. The wedge typically had been formed by more than two players lining up in a blocking triangle to lead a returner upfield against kickoff coverage.
  1. Also on kickoffs, the kicking team can't have more than five players bunched together pursuing an onside kick. Instead, at least four players of the kicking team must be on each side of the kicker. A violating team will be assessed a five-yard penalty.

How will these rules affect the Texans?

Well, special teams coordinator Joe Marciano has been poring through his playbook since the new rules were announced, changing plays and devising new ones.

"The onside kick rule is a good thing and the league had been trying to tweak that one for a while," Marciano said. "The way it has been, a lot of the players are defenseless and they get their heads knocked off after the ball is kicked. Also, coaches keep grouping more players in smaller areas to get an advantage, and that means a lot of guys are getting hit head-on.

"This change forces every team to change their plays, so no one really has an advantage. And I think most coaches have wanted this rule change."

As for kickoff returns, Marciano said the new rule will put more pressure on single blockers to seal their man and the returner to find his seam. He said the Texans already have several plays with two-man wedges, but he has begun tweaking his schemes.

"Coaches always are looking for loopholes when it comes to rules," Marciano said. "We will look at how we can space our wedge with our blockers and we are going to have to change how we block upfield. It will be interesting to see if this rule results in more kickoff returns for touchdowns or less."

In 2007, Texans defensive tackle Cedric Killings suffered a career-ending injury when he fractured his neck after colliding head-first on a kickoff return with Indianapolis receiver Roy Hall.

"That's not how we teach to hit, but those injuries on kickoffs do happen," Marciano said. "These rules help with player safety, and that's what matters."

Defensive coordinator Frank Bush, on the other hand, doesn't think the rules regarding blindside hits and defenseless receivers will change much for him schematically.

"I'm not sure there is such a thing as a defenseless receiver, but that rule has been in play to some extent, so guys already know how to do that," Bush said. "I don't think that will be such a big issue because the guys already take precautions to not hit receivers helmet-to-helmet.

"I do think the blindside rule will take away from the aggressiveness for some players, but some players will figure a way around the rule. The aggressive guys will figure out how to get it done and play within the rules. I'm all for it if it protects the players, but we have got to find a way to keep players aggressive."

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