Safety first, and other rules
Posted Aug 9, 2009
Jason Carter gets an explanation from official Bob Lawing during practice at Wofford College on Thursday, Aug. 6. (PHOTO: ANDREW MASON / PANTHERS.COM)
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- As with most years, the rules changes for the 2009 season don't represent a massive overhaul of game play, but a series of tweaks.
The alterations are, however, enough to justify the presence of NFL officials at each team's training camp for multiple sessions, giving players and coaches a chance to adjust and allowing the officials to explain the changes and the rationale behind them.
The game clock will now start when the referee signals that the ball is ready for play after fumbles or backward passes that go out of bounds at all times. This had not been the case during the last two minutes of each half.
Call this the "Cutler Rule," since it stems from the play late in a Week 2 Broncos-Chargers game last year where then-Denver quarterback Jay Cutler lost his grip on the football before throwing it and San Diego recovered, but the Broncos kept the football because referee Ed Hochuli had called it an incompletion -- and thus blown his whistle, rendering instant replay moot.
The rule change would have allowed the Chargers to gain possession, since it would permit instant replay to review it and award possession of the loose football to the recovering team. This rule is similar to the one in place the last three seasons for "down by contact" calls; these were not reviewable until 2006.
Blindside blocks to the head and neck and initial contact with the helmet, forearm or shoulder to the head or neck of a defenseless receiver have been made illegal and punishable with a 15-yard penalty.
An example of a hit on a defenseless receiver is the one absorbed by Arizona wide receiver Anquan Boldin late in a loss to the New York Jets last season. Boldin was carted off the field and suffered fractures to his sinuses, forcing him out for two games before a return at Bank of America Stadium last Oct. 26.
Such a hit is also subject to potential league discipline -- fine, suspension, et. al.
More changes were approved here than in any other area of the game for 2009.
NO MORE WEDGES: Safety is also in play here. One of the most dangerous tactics in football has been eliminated with the end of the "wedge" return formation, where three players would link together to create a human wall that the returner would tuck behind.
A three-man wedge will result in a 15-yard penalty at the spot where the wedge was formed, which often would be a half-the-distance infraction since the overwhelming majority of wedges are formed inside the 20-yard-line.
As Larry Beavers fields the kickoff, Nick Hayden (98) and Gary Barnidge (82) form a legal two-man wall in front of him. Adding another player to their formation would incur a 15-yard penalty. (PHOTO: ANDREW MASON / PANTHERS.COM)
KICKING FORMATION: On kickoffs and free kicks, the kicking team must have at least four players on each side of the kicker, with at least three players outside of each hashmark. This eliminates teams from stacking up many players on one side, as well as the burgeoning practice of bunching players around the kicker leading up to an on-side kickoff.
NO RE-DO: There will no longer be re-kicks after onside kicks that incur a penalty for the kicking team, thus creating a dire consequence for a team that successfully converts an onside kick, but has players traipsing offside prior to the strike on the football.
POINTS OF EMPHASIS:
NO HORSING AROUND: The "horse collar" tackle has been illegal since the 2005 season, with its definition expanded a year later to cover tackles where the back of the jersey collar was grabbed. This year, officials will be scrutinizing it. The only exception to the ban on "horse collar" tackles is on quarterbacks in the pocket.
LOW ROLLERS: Officials will also be closely watching the low hits on quarterbacks -- including ones where the tackler rolls into the passer. The example shown in the video screened to players, coaches and media was the hit by Kansas City's Bernard Pollard on New England quarterback Tom Brady in Week 1 last year; the collision severed Brady's anterior cruciate ligament, ending his season.