PLAYER SAFETY IS MAIN CONCERN

NFL owners make player safety their chief consideration as they approve rules changes during meetings in Indianapolis.

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NFL OWNERS APPROVE RULES CHANGES WITH GOAL OF CURTAILING INJURIES
The NFL continued its push Tuesday to make the game safer for its players.

League owners who were meeting in Indianapolis voted unanimously (32-0) to approve rules changes that further protect defenseless players and prohibit illegal "launching" against an opponent. The league's Competition Committee, which includes Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian, proposed the rule alterations.

Colts owner Jim Irsay applauded the moves.

"I think we're just trying to make the rules as good as possible for safety but also to be competitive for defenders," Irsay said during a break in the meetings in downtown Indianapolis. "I think (the changes are) good."

Two of the rules amendments are specifically designed to avert injuries.

The first change protects a player who is considered to be in a defenseless posture. That could involve a receiver who has not clearly become a runner yet after a catch. It could involve a kicker or punter during the kick or the return. Or it could involve a quarterback at any time after a change of possession, or any player who is hit from his blind side.

For example, a 15-yard, unnecessary roughness penalty will be incurred by any player who makes a blind-side block on an opponent when the blocker is moving toward his own endline and approaches his foe from behind or the side. The penalized player could face ejection if officials deem the foul to be flagrant.

Under the launching rule, it will be considered illegal if a player "leaves both feet prior to contact to spring forward and upward into his opponent" and delivers a blow with any part of his helmet. Likewise, the penalty for a launching violation involves 15 yards and possible disqualification if the action is judged to be flagrant.

"As part of (NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's) focus on player safety, (the rules) had been discussed at length in March," Colts Vice President and General Manager Chris Polian said, referring to the league's earlier meetings. "They were researched a little more by the Competition Committee, tweaked (and) made a little more clear from a coaching standpoint. It's certainly something everybody was behind."

Added Rich McKay, co-chairman of the Competition Committee and president of the Atlanta Falcons: "I hope we've reached a place now that, from the defenseless player standpoint, we have it where we want it."

Also, NFL owners clarified rules protecting the quarterback. Hits to the head of a passer by an opponent's hands, arms or other parts of the body will not be fouls now unless they are considered "forcible blows" by an official.

"That will lead to judgment," McKay said. "We're putting a little on the referees here as to that. But we think we have good video of what we want called, what we don't want called."

Chris Polian said the alteration of the rule "made it a little bit more common sense."

Goodell's push to curtail illegal and dangerous play was evident on another front Tuesday.

It was announced by NFL Vice President Adolpho Birch that the league is expected to penalize teams if their players commit too many flagrant hits that result in fines. How many is too many? The new plan has not been finalized, but at least part of the punishment is expected to be financial.

Once a limit is set for the flagrant hits, Birch said the idea of the penalties will be to "encourage clubs to stay below that threshold."

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