Hochuli: Offense, defense have equal right to ball
The pushing and tugging between NFL receivers and defensive backs will be under a stronger magnifying glass in 2014.
That was one of the main messages delivered by veteran official Ed Hochuli on Thursday in discussing NFL rule changes and points of emphasis for this season.
Contact between receivers and defensive backs before the pass is in the air will be a major point of emphasis, and three aspects were illustrated in a video intended to educate players and the media.
■ The defender cannot initiate contact more than 5 yards from the line of scrimmage when the quarterback is in the pocket.
■ Grabbing a uniform before the pass is not allowed, whether or not it impedes the receiver.
■ Receivers can use hands or arms to ward off contact initiated by a defender but cannot push off. Officials will pay particular attention to the top of the route, where this typically happens.
These three points will be paid more attention to by referees, Hochuli said. When asked if this will result in penalty flags raining down on defensive backs, particularly for grabbing the uniform, Hochuli said, "If (the quarterback has) the ball, then that's going to be holding. And then the DBs will stop doing that."
Hochuli also stressed that if a defender plays the ball and not the receiver, contact can be made without risk of penalty.
"The offense and the defense have equal rights to the ball," he said. "It doesn't make any difference who's offense and who's defense in those situations. So officials are just judging who had the better position."
Among the rule changes and other points of emphasis are:
■ To protect defensive players below the waist, blockers cannot roll up on the sides of the leg when making a cut block. The old rule addressed only the back of leg. Cut blocks to the front of the leg are admissible.
■ The game clock won't stop after a sack outside of 2 minutes of either half. If the player who takes the snap is tackled behind the line of scrimmage, the game clock will continue to run. The old rule stopped the clock until the ball was ready for the next play.
"That's a rule that predated the 40-second play clock," Hochuli said.
■ On instant replay, the referee will be able to consult with the top two men in NFL officiating — vice president of officiating Dean Blandino and senior director of officiating Al Riveron — before and during reviews. Also, the recovery of a loose ball will be reviewable, including fumbles, backward passes and kicks.
"The goal is to speed it up some," Hochuli said, "and we're also working for consistency."
■ There will be zero tolerance for verbal abuse of an opponent or referee, including racial and sexual orientation slurs.
■ Using the ball, pylon, crossbar, goal post or any other object as a prop for a celebration will be called for unsportsmanlike conduct.
"One of my goals is to keep these guys out of trouble," Hochuli said. When asked the reason for the celebration crackdown, he said: "What happens on Sunday translates into youth football and into high school and the NFL — and I think this is outstanding — the NFL is very concerned about that. And we don't want those kinds of unsportsmanlike acts to translate."
Also, the NFL will conduct an experiment with extra-point kicks. The ball will be spotted at the 15-yard line for point-after kicks. It still will be spotted at the 2-yard line for two-point tries.
The experiment will be limited to the Hall of Fame game and the first two weeks of the preseason.
— firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @robertzizzo.