PHOENIX — Of the rule changes being discussed at the NFL annual meetings, the one getting the most debate is proposal No. 6: Contact with the crown of the helmet.
That would make it against the rules for a runner to initiate “forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top crown of the helmet against an opponent when both players are clearly outside of the tackle box.” It would be a 15-yard penalty.
It’s believed to be the first-ever proposal to limit what a ball-carrier can do to a defensive player.
“We had a lot of discussion going back,” said Packers president Mark Murphy, a member of the NFL competition committee. “It’s actually something even in the last year we looked at it and decided not to do anything. People on the committee feel this is the next step. It’s really an effort to take out the use of the helmet out of the game, especially since the helmet is really being used more and more as a weapon.”
It’s another in a long line of player-safety rules changes that have been enacted in recent years. Many of them have to do with the use of the helmet.
“When I played, of course that was a long time ago, we were all scared to death of being paralyzed,” said Murphy, a safety for the Washington Redskins from 1977-84. “And it was all, ‘keep your head up, hit with your head up and you bow your neck and hit.’ You watch now and players have no fear of hitting with the top of their helmet. And you know it’s not only to protect the person that’s getting hit, it’s the person who’s doing the hitting. I guess teams have resulted in the most discussion is the fact that it’s being applied to runners.”
Any proposed rule changes needs approval from 24 of the 32 NFL teams. Voting will take place either today or tomorrow.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid, a member of the Madden Committee for player safety, said referees have indicated they believe they can properly enforce the rule.
“There’s a short area there that you can still what you do within the tackle box, and the tackle box extends 3 or 4 yards down the field, and the ball carrier is still in a position where he can keep his pad level down and can do that,” Reid said. “It’s really more in the open field where the concern comes in. They’re trying to protect the player and allow the player to utilize his arms more than his head. It used to be where the running backs would use their rib and shoulder to protect themselves. Now there’s a little more head being involved there. I think it’s important that the officials are comfortable with it.”
UPDATE: The league passed two of the less controversial proposals.
1. Teams will not be allowed to have more than six players on the line of scrimmage on either side of the snapper on field goals and extra points
2. Peel-back blocks, in which an offensive player blocks low from the side or behind, are now illegal. The same technique can be used if the block is in front of an opponent's body, which is often the case in a zone-blocking play.