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NFL Competition Committee discusses potential rule changes

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff  March 16, 2011 05:00 PM

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Let's table the labor discussions and talk a little football, shall we? It's rule change talk -- admittedly not a sexy topic -- but it isn't CBA, so hopefully it's a welcome respite.

The NFL held a conference call today in advance of the annual spring meetings, which will take place this weekend in New Orleans. As a side note, league spokesman Greg Aiello said at the outset of the call that all 32 head coaches are expected at the meetings and expected to take part in the annual coaches' breakfast with media -- meaning we'll get to hear from Bill Belichick and his thoughts on the upcoming draft as well as anything else that comes up.

But the focus of the call was the Competition Committee, and any potential rule changes that the group will propose at the meetings for approval.

Player safety remains an emphasis, and league vice president of football operations Ray Anderson as well as Competition Committee chairman (and Falcons president) Rich McKay stressed that repeat violators of the devastating hits rule could be suspended going forward.

"The committee certainly fully supported the aggressive protection of defenseless players and aggressive protection against unnecessary hits to the head, neck area, and illegal helmet hits," Anderson said. "We understand that we need to continue in terms of disciplining to discourage repeat offenders and flagrant violators and hold not just players but coaches and clubs accountable for playing to and coaching to the rules. There will be strong support in the 2011 season for making sure that players understand that, when warranted, suspensions will be an effective discipline for us.

"We don’t want to go there, but if we must we’re prepared to do that because these rules are meant to protect everybody on the field and all are accountable to those player safety rules. So discipline, and aggressive discipline, for these player safety rules and violations, particularly the ones that we all know can be devastating, will be an emphasis in 2011."

McKay said there are not as many rule proposals as in other years - just five, of which only three can be classified as "major" proposals, plus a number of clarifications.

The first major proposal is clarifying when a player is categorized as "defenseless"; the second is a modification of the kickoff - because of the injury rate on kickoffs, the committee is proposing moving the kickoff spot back to the 35-yard line from the 30, the elimination of all wedge blocks (including the two-man wedge), and moving the touchback on kickoffs to the 25-yard line from the 20.

The third proposal is to modify instant replay. Under the new proposal, all scoring plays would be reviewed by the replay official, eliminating the need for coaches to use a challenge on a questionable scoring play. Along with that, coaches would be allowed just two challenges per game; currently they are allowed three.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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