The NFL Competition Committee wants open-field football to be completely different next season.
The group will propose to owners that ball-carriers or defenders who lower their heads to gain yards or to make a tackle should receive a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness.
It’s one of three player safety proposals the group will make at the NFL Annual Meeting in Phoenix next week.
The committee, which announced the proposals in a conference call Thursday, also will advise doing away with the “peel-back block” inside the tackle box and overloading one side of the defensive line during a point-after or field-goal attempt.
Either of these violations also would result in a 15-yard penalty.
These, along with three other rule changes, would have to be approved by the owners. However, that group usually rubber-stamps proposals by the committee.
Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson and St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher explained the proposals Thursday. They said they met for 12 days during the offseason discussing possible rule changes and talking to players, coaches and referees.
The open-field helmet rule gained the most attention, with McKay saying “it was one of the first of its kind to regulate play in open space.” The key to the rule is that both players must be outside the tackle box, he said.
“This initiative says the runner and the tackler have a choice,” Fisher said. “We do not want them delivering a blow with the top crown of helmet.
“We’re looking for the obvious foul. But we want officials to err on the side of safety, not incidental contact.”
Fisher said coaching will be the key to learning a new way to play in the open field and preventing players from lowering their heads.
“By doing this, we can avoid some dangerous situations on the field,” he said.
The peel-back block has been discussed for years but gained infamy last season when Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing suffered a season-ending knee injury from such a move.
McKay said these blocks previously have been outlawed in the open field, but now “peel-backs will be illegal anywhere on the field.”
The field-goal rule came about because it was turning the snapper into a defenseless player, Fisher said.
“No more than six players will be allowed on either side of the snapper,” he said. “No more will defenses be allowed to rush or overload the gaps.”
Fisher said that after studying film, defenses “will still have the opportunity to block those kicks.”
Anderson said two other safety measures passed last season will be points of emphasis beginning this fall: Leg and thigh pads will become mandatory, and an oversight committee will be formed to monitor field conditions.
Anderson said videos and seminars will explain how the pads rule will be enforced. Uniform inspectors, who previously checked for untucked uniforms and unmatched socks, will be allowed to keep players out of a game for not wearing knee or thigh pads or for wearing improper padding. They will perform random checks of players before the game.
“Once the game begins, uniform inspectors will have access to the sidelines,” Anderson said. “A player will not be permitted in the game until he does comply. … If he continues not to comply, he may be subject to additional discipline.”
Anderson said the monitors for field conditions will be able to say if a field is not up to NFL quality.
“The new department will have ability to require the club to update the situation at the club’s expense,” he said.
Other proposed rule changes include:
* Abolishment of the controversial “Tuck Rule.”
* Requirement of a replay even if a coach inadvertently throws a challenge flag, such as on plays that are automatically subject to review.
* A wider variety of uniform numbers that tight ends and H-backs would be allowed to wear.
– Bill Bradley, contributing editor