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Notebook: Running Backs Wary Of New Rules Proposal

Posted Mar 19, 2013

The NFL's Competition Committee is looking at some new rule proposals this week.

The annual league meetings is much more than a chance for all 32 owners to gather in one place, exchange war stories and see some more deals get made between their general managers and player agents. This is the time of year when the NFL’s Competition Committee gets together to go over proposed rule changes and perhaps vote on some.

There are a handful of proposals being considered here, but the one that appears to be generating the most discussion is Playing Rule Proposal No. 6, which restricts a ball carrier and a tackler’s ability to initiate contact with the crown of their helmet.

“Basically, the best way to phrase this is we’re bringing the shoulder back in the game. We want to bring the shoulder back to the game,” said St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, one of the leaders of the Competition Committee. “We all know the helmet is a protective device; it’s not designed to be used like it’s being used as of late and we want to protect our players, specifically out in space.”

Fisher acknowledged that his former teammate with the Chicago Bears, the late Hall-of-Fame running back Walter Payton, probably would have had some difficulty with this rule change. Many of Payton’s most played highlights show him acting like a battering ram as he knocks over defenders with his helmet.

Should the proposal get enough votes, the result would be a 15-yard penalty from the spot of the foul if it’s on the running back, from the line of scrimmage if it’s on the defender and if the offensive player and defensive player are both committing a foul the penalties will offset and the down will be replayed.

“We want to make a serious attempt to get the shoulder back into the game. We think that is very important as a league,” Fisher said. “We are not saying the ball carrier cannot get small. We are not saying the ball carrier cannot protect the football, because if he is going to go down to cover the football, if the shoulder goes down, we know the head goes down, we understand that. We have some one-arm dominant runners in this league where if they are running away from their dominant side, they don’t switch hands with the ball, so if I am running as a right handed ball carrier and I am running to the left, the defender coming here, my only opportunity is to go down to protect the football.

“Protecting the football is okay, providing you do not strike with the crown of your helmet and that is what we are trying to differentiate. The other thing that is going to come up, the crew is going to do the best they can, but there may be instances where this is sent upstairs and it is not penalized on the field but it will be fined.”

The onus, as Fisher explained it, will be on the coaches to properly coach the players and stress avoiding the use of the crown of the helmet to initiate contact. The referees also will be shown plenty of film of legal hits as opposed to illegal hits in order to promote consistency.

OTHER RULES PROPOSALS LESS CONTROVERSIAL

Aside from Playing Rule Proposal No. 6, there doesn’t seem to be much debate over the other proposals, with the elimination of the tuck rule being the most popular.

Detroit Lions had coach Jim Schwartz will be happy to know that what happened to him on Thanksgiving Day, when he threw a challenge flag for what was deemed a n automatic review and wound up not having the play reviewed, won’t happen again. Now if that occurs, the play will still be reviewed and the coach will be charged a timeout or penalized 15 yards if he’s out of teammates. The key to this change is that the play will still be looked at in order to fix a mistake.

Tight ends, H-backs and fullbacks can now wear numbers in the 40s; on field goals and PATs, no more than six players can be on either side of the long snapper and pushing from the second lever will no longer be permitted; the peel-back block is in essence being eliminated as the player, “under no circumstances will you be permitted to block low below the waist when you’re blocking back towards your own end-line, including the tackle box also, where it’ll be illegal.”
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