NFL Officials will show a video to players later tonight that will clarify, provide points of emphasis or establish new rules for the 2015 season, including a clarification on the infamous “Dez Bryant catch” in the NFC Divisional Game against the Green Bay Packers. Gathered media attended a meeting with officials and asked questions.
After an opening montage where officials paraded coaches and players in support of the new rules, including Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden and St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, vice president of Dean Blandino emphasized that all the rule changes are designed to increase player safety and clarity, with four of the rules directly impacting safety.
One rule that digs directly at criticism the NFL has received for being inattentive to head injuries is designed to provide additional avenues to get players off the field. There will be an official in the press box (a certified athletic trainer) who will signal to officials on the field if a player exhibits symptoms of a head injury and has not been taken off the field by medical staff or field officials.
Field officials will continue to monitor conditions on the field for that, and the AT will not call down if the officials take that player off the field. In either situation, the officials will use a referee’s timeout not charged to either team, and the player will be evaluated on the sideline.
That would have been good for Jahleel Addae, who was more than merely shaken up in a game against Denver.
Aside from that, two changes in blocking rules came about. One extended the prohibition on peel-back blocks (blocks aimed at an opposing player’s knees coming from behind as the blocker approaches his own end line) from inside the tackle box where it was already illegal, to the entire field. When moving towards the opposing end zone, the block is legal.
The left tackle below makes an illegal peel-back block:
The second type of block made illegal were chop blocks not adjacent to a player on the backside of a play. Chop blocks on players who are engaged with an adjacent blocker (left guard and left tackle) are legal on to either side of the play.
There is a renewed emphasis on preventing fights, this time designed to prevent players from even approaching a scrum—any active participant in a fight will be penalized, and flagrant violations will result in an ejection, as before. But players who move into the area of a fight, even to break it up, may be penalized. If players do not leave an area, they will be fined.
To that end, the NFL has also taken steps to prevent fights from occurring in the first place. They have made it a penalty to pull opponents off of a fumble scrum.
Two rules apply to special teams. One is an expansion of a rule that applied to kick attempts, which now applies to punts—players are not allowed to push teammates forward at the line of scrimmage.
The other rule is familiar now to most fans. Extra point kick attempts will be snapped from the 15-yard line, though teams may elect to score a two-point conversion from the two yard line. In either instance, a change of possession through an interception, fumble or blocked kick will allow the defense to score two points if they are not stopped along the way.
The final set of rules involve receivers. The first one protects the receivers if they are the intended target on an intercepted ball—they will receive the same defenseless receiver protections they would have received if the ball had not been picked off, and are protected from hits to the neck and head area or hits from the crown of a helmet until they are no longer defenseless, defined as the ability to “ward off contact.”
The last rule is the most hotly debated rule, but is not a change in enforcement—simply verbiage. Dez Bryant’s “catch” against Green Bay is still ruled incomplete under this verbiage. The receiver must:
- Clearly control the ball through the catch process
- Establish possession with two feet inbounds on the ground
- Become a “runner,” a phrase that is similarly defined as the one used above for receivers: the ability to “ward off contact.” One of the gathered officials mentioned taking a “third step,” though that sounded more like an example than the definition.
- Maintain control of the ball through contact. If a receiver re-adjusts a catch after the ball touches the ground or during that moment, it is not a catch
Reaching with the ball is not considered establish oneself as a runner, because you are not necessarily in a position to ward off contact (like Bryant wasn’t able to).