New "Player Safety" Rules Could Cause an Unintended Headache for the NFL

Written By Bob Cunningham On Tuesday, March 24, 2009
The picture to your left is that of a wedge block.

Well, a pre-2009 wedge block.

In the coming season, such a block will now be illegal as voted by the NFL higher-ups.

This comes as a package of four rule changes that will take place for 2009 involving "player safety."

Other rule changes taking place will be the elimination of the blind-side helmet-to-helmet block, initial contact to the head of a defenseless receiver will result in a 15-yard penalty (call this the "Anquan Boldin" rule), and no more than five players from the kicking team will be allowed to bunch together to retrieve an onside kick.

The helmet-to-helmet rule makes sense to a certain degree. Being hit in the head is always risky, especially when you don't see it coming. Actually, we can call this the "Hines Ward" rule, considering this is the only way he knows how to block.

The "Anquan Boldin" rule is something that's always been in place, really. It's just on the books now.

The ones that get me are the rule changes involving the kickoff.

No more than five players to retrieve an onsides kick? These kicks were only recovered about 35 percent of the time anyway, that will drop to somewhere around 15-20 percent in 2009 and beyond.

They've effectively made the onside kick useless.

Then there's the rule for the kickoff team. No more than TWO players are allowed to form a wedge? That destroys the entire point of a wedge, and drastically reshapes special teams.

The wedge is the first thing any kickoff-return team learns. It's the fundamental building block of the entire return team.

Gone.

This also will change the way that the kickoff team attacks the ball.

Previously, a kickoff team always made sure to have the bigger, faster linebackers playing in the middle of the kickoff team in order to bust through the wedge. This allowed for the quicker defensive backs or receivers to converge on the return man with less of an obstacle.

No longer will these linebackers be needed to bust through the wedge, considering it will no longer exist.

This creates an extreme disadvantage for the return man and will cause a dramatic decrease in kickoff returns for touchdowns, something every football fan likes to see.

And why not? Kickoff return touchdowns are exciting! Devin Hester just got paid like Larry Fitzgerald because of his exciting talent. His job is now immensely more difficult.

The rules for the kickoff and kickoff return make zero sense, I wish I knew who cooked up this half-baked idea and actually sold it to the league.

The other rules, for the most part, are sound and make sense to keep players safe from head-injures, which seem to be garnering much more attention from the NFL.

The only problem comes in during their enforcement.

We've seen rules become perverted by officials and not called the way they are meant to be called. They simply have misunderstood or just don't know the rule.

Perfect examples: Pass Interference and Roughing the Passer.

Their is no pass interference call if the ball is uncatchable, but how often do you see the refs take that into account?

Or when there's a "roughing the passer" penalty called because the man used all of his body weight to drive the quarterback to the ground.

So how much of the body weight is acceptable? 22, 23, 56 percent? No one knows because that is something that has been cooked up in the minds of these officials and not by the people writing the rule book.

So how long until a rule like "Illegal hands to the face" is simply an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty as deemed necessary by the officials?

The guys writing the rules may not have intended for a simple hand to the face to be considered under this new rule, but if the officials take a literal meaning to the rule and start calling any sort of helmet contact as a personal foul, that's what could happen.

The intentions are good on the part of the NFL's Competition Committee, but it's putting these rules into the hands of the officials is what worries me.


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