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New rules on the way in 2009


A crew of NFL officials visited Texans training camp on Friday to explain a set of new rules to players, coaches and media. The primary focus of the new rules is player safety, aimed at preventing some of the serious injuries that have occurred around the league in the past few years.

Among the new rules are the elimination of blindside blocks to the head or neck and the elimination of a wedge formation involving more than two players on kickoff returns.

"Almost every rule involved eliminating acts that cause serious injuries to the players," line judge and crew chief Byron Boston said. "The wedge rule, hits above the defenseless receiver's shoulders, the hits on players away from the plays."

To illustrate the new rules, Boston and his officiating crew of side judge Jeff Lambert and umpire Ruben Fowler presented a video that was produced by the NFL. The video showed plays from the 2008 season that are now illegal, such as Hines Ward's vicious block of Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers and Jets safety Eric Price's knockout hit in the end zone on Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin.

Another change, referred to as the "Brady rule," has been implemented to eliminate injuries to quarterbacks below the knees. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Texans quarterback Matt Schaub were both injured last season by a defender who was blocked to the ground and then hit the quarterback's knee with his helmet or shoulder pads.

Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, who dove helmet-first into Schaub's left knee, was fined $50,000 by the NFL but not penalized for his hits.

"Basically, what was happening was there was some gray area in the rule that said that if I was blocked to the ground, how could I prevent hitting the quarterback below the knee?" Boston said. "What the NFL Competition Committee did was put the onus on the defensive player that is blocked to the ground to avoid forcible contact to the knee of the quarterback."

{QUOTE}Once on the ground, a defensive player still can try to bring a quarterback down by wrapping his arms around the knee of the quarterback.

"As long as he makes a normal tackling motion by swiping at him or whatever – as long as he doesn't come through with his shoulder or his head and put forcible contact below the knee of the quarterback," Boston said.

Another one of the rules that Boston and his crew explained was the two-man wedge rule, which Texans special teams coordinator Joe Marciano discussed at length after Friday morning's special teams practice (see details). Texans defensive lineman Cedric Killings (2007) and wide receiver Harry Williams (2008) suffered career-ending injuries over the past two seasons on kickoff returns.

"The wedge rule basically states that no two players can occupy the same yard-line if there are more than two players in the wedge," Boston said. "So if you have two players at the 20-yard line, the third player cannot be within two yards occupying the same yard line. That's to eliminate high-impact collisions because as you notice, teams including the Texans put big offensive and defensive linemen back in the wedge."

Gary Slaughter, the Central Region Supervisor of Officials, noted that the Texans ranked toward the bottom of the league in fouls last season. Slaughter was particularly impressed that the Texans ranked between 25th and 27th in offensive holding, which is the second-most frequent penalty in the league.

"It's a tribute to the coaches and the players both, all year long last year," Slaughter said. "They were third in offense. That's unusual to see a team with that much offensive output and right at the very bottom of holding. They've got a lot of good technique."

Here is a listing of the rules below.

Rules aimed at increasing player safety:

  • Kickoff team must have at least three players outside each inbounds line, one of whom must be outside the yard line number. This eliminates the "bunch" onside kick formation in an effort to increase player safety.
  • Eliminates a wedge formation involving more than two players on kickoff returns. An illegal wedge is defined as three or more players lined up shoulder-to-shoulder within two yards of each other. This rule does not apply when the kicking team lines up in an obvious onside kick formation. Penalized is a loss of 15 yards from the spot of the illegal wedge.
  • Eliminates blindside blocks to the head or neck area of an opponent. This applies when the blocker is moving toward his own end zone and approaches the opponent from behind or from the side. The penalty is a loss of 15 yards.
  • Eliminates initial contact with the helmet, forearm or shoulder to the head or neck area of a defenseless receiver. This applies to a receiver who is catching or attempting to catch a pass.

Other rules:

  • Expands reviewable plays to include quarterback pass/fumbles when the ruling on the field is an incomplete pass, and loose balls ruled to have hit the sideline. This provides a mechanism for correcting an obvious on-field officiating error. If the ruling of incomplete pass is changed, the ball belongs to the recovering player at the spot of the recovery of the fumble and any advance is nullified.
  • Eliminates automatic re-kick after an illegal onside kick. This makes the penalty enforcement more appropriate for an illegal onside kick.
  • Game clock will start on the ready signal after all fumbles and backward passes that go out of bounds. This makes the rule concerning such plays consistent with all other timing rules.
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