A group of NFL officials is in town for Saturday’s Family Night scrimmage, and those officials will be showing a video to the players and coaches that explains various rules changes and points of emphasis for the 2010 season.
The local media was just shown the video and got an opportunity to follow up with some questions. Here is a brief rundown of the rules changes and points of emphasis:
–Defenseless players: The rule protecting defenseless players (i.e., a receiver leaping to make a catch over the middle) has been expanded to protect the player during the transition time after he gains possession of the ball and is becoming a runner. A player is still considered defenseless if he hasn’t had enough time to gather himself and resume normal running, even if both feet have hit the ground.
Also, “launching” to make a hit or tackle will be illegal in virtually any circumstance. Launching is defined as leaving the feet and initiating contact with forward or upward movement into another player, hitting that player in the upper body by leading with the helmet or shoulder. As was the case last year, any contact in the head or neck area of a defenseless player will draw a flag.
–Long snappers: Last year a new rule was put in place requiring, on field goals and extra points, that defensive players on the line of scrimmage line up with their helmets outside the shoulder pads of the long snapper. That protection for the long snapper is being expanded to require the defensive players on the line of scrimmage to have their entire bodies outside the shoulder pads of the long snapper, and the rule will now include punts as well.
–Helmets off: Any play in which the ball-carrier’s helmet comes off will be blown dead immediately. There is no advancement of the ball or tackling of a ball-carrier who has lost his helmet.
–Fair-catch interference: Punt returners now must be given a reasonable opportunity to catch a muffed punt before it hits the ground. If a punt is muffed but the ball remains in midair and within the punt returner’s grasp, he must be given an opportunity to still catch it. The ball does not become “live” until it hits the ground or unless it caroms a significant distance from the returner. Also, any flags for fair-catch interference will no longer result in 15-yard penalties. Instead, the ball will be awarded to the receiving team at the spot of the interference. A 15-yard penalty will only be assessed if an unnecessary roughness personal foul is involved.
–Dead-ball fouls, end of half: Previously, when a dead-ball foul was called against the defense after time had expired in the first half, the offense had the option of either accepting the penalty and getting one untimed down, or having the penalty assessed on the second-half kickoff. Now, on a dead-ball foul, there will be no choice, and the penalty will automatically be assessed on the second-half (or overtime) kickoff. This does not apply to penalties during the final play, only dead-ball personal fouls called after the whistle.
–Sportsmanship: Players are being strongly cautioned to stop all the exaggerated gestures made in asking for penalties to be called (i.e., a receiver motioning with his hand near his hip as though he’s throwing a flag himself). No penalties will be assessed for these gestures this year, but the league continues to study this issue and may institute an unsportsmanlike penalty in the future.
–Moving the umpire: For safety reasons, the umpire will now line up in the offensive backfield on the opposite side of the formation from the referee. Previously, umpires lined up on the defensive side just behind the linebackers, and the league is trying to keep those officials out of harm’s way.
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