FOXBORO, Mass. — NFL back judge Billy Smith and a group of officials led a 45-minute discussion with the New England media Monday regarding the league's new rules changes for the 2010 season.
Here are the highlights.
1. There will be a greater emphasis to protect defenseless players from receiving hits to the head and neck area. Such players include quarterbacks in the act of throwing, receivers in the act of catching, a ball carrier whose progress has been stopped, a quarterback after a change of possession and punt and kick returners who are in the act of receiving the ball. The violation will call for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty. The team of officials admitted it's a subjective call, but the competition committee told officials to err on the side of player safety when making a call.
2. Defensive players on the line of scrimmage cannot line up over the long snapper on punts, field goals and extra points. They must be completely outside of the long snapper's shoulder pads. A player in violation will be called for a five-yard illegal formation penalty. However, a penalty will not be called if there is a fake punt or kick.
3. The play will be whistled dead when the ball carrier's helmet comes off. The clock will continue to run as if the player was downed by contact.
4. If a punt or kick returner calls for a fair catch and muffs the ball, he must receive an ample opportunity to recover the ball before he is bombarded by the coverage team. This seems like a tricky call to make.
5. If there is a dead-ball personal foul called during the last play of the second or fourth quarter, the penalty will be enforced on the opening kickoff in the third quarter or overtime. In the past, if that penalty was whistled on the defense, the offensive team had the option of extending the second or fourth quarter by one play. Now, that option will no longer be granted.
6. The umpire will now line up in the offensive backfield opposite of the referee. This changed to protect officials who have been trucked by players in the past, and Smith even said players were fined last season for intentionally targeting officials. This rule will also help the umpire be in better position to call holding penalties.
Last season, there were fewer than three holding penalties called per game in the NFL, but Smith said there were five called by the umpire during Sunday night's preseason game between the Cowboys and Bengals. In 2009, there were 646 holding penalties called — the second-most of any penalty other than false starts (651). The third-most penalties were defensive offsides, which was called 296 times. The moral of this story? Get ready for a whole lot of holding flags.
It's worth noting that umpires will line up on the defensive side of the ball during the last two minutes of the second and fourth quarter, as well as field-goal tries and extra-point attempts.
7. Players have been asked to stop gesturing for penalties after the play, which has been determined as an act of showing up the officials. It will not be a penalty in 2010, but the competition committee will track that information and potentially include it as a penalty in future seasons.
8. The structure of overtime has changed in the playoffs only. Each team will receive at least one possession unless the first team that receives the ball scores a touchdown.