SAFETY FIRST

A priority for many officials entering the NFL Owners Meetings this week was to make the game safer. On Tuesday, league owners took a step toward that objective, passing four safety-oriented rules that will be put into place beginning in the 2009 season.

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At League Meetings, NFL Owners Pass Four Rules Promoting Player Safety
INDIANAPOLIS – A priority for many NFL officials entering the NFL Owners Meetings this week was to make the game a bit safer.

On Tuesday, league owners took a step toward that objective.

The NFL owners, who are gathered in Dana Point, Calif., for their annual league meetings, on Tuesday voted to pass four safety-oriented rules, the league announced. The rules will be put into place beginning in the 2009 season.

The rules, which were recommended by the NFL's Competition Committee, will penalize:

• Blindside blocks in which the block's initial force comes from a helmet, forearm or shoulder to an opponent's head or neck. A violation of this rule will result in a 15-yard penalty.

• Any initial contact by a defender to the head of a defenseless receiver. A violation of this rule also will result in a 15-yard penalty.

• A kicking team ruled to have more than five players bunched together pursing an onside kick.

• A kicking team that is ruled to be using a blocking wedge featuring more than two players.

When discussing the league meetings late last week, Colts President Bill Polian – a member of the Competition Committee – talked of the safety issues.

"I think we've addressed the safety issues to a large degree with the elimination of the wedge," Polian said.

Rich McKay, the Atlanta Falcons' president and a co-chairman of the Competition Committee, said last week the wedge was a major issue among the players with whom the committee discussed potential rule changes in recent months.

"I'll give the players credit because when we sat down and went through a lot of safety issues, they were pretty quick to point out the wedge, that the wedge concerned them," McKay said.

NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Ray Anderson said the league emphasized safety in a similar way last season, installing rules to eliminate helmet-to-helmet hits.

"Certainly one of the things that is impressive is that the players are very engaged in protecting themselves, and so with regard to the wedge in particular, they were the primary instigators of those discussions," Anderson said. "One of the things that we really focused on this year was playing safety rules to eliminate the illegal techniques, and we got a lot of early season criticism about our emphasis on these helmet-to-helmet hits. But what we certainly noticed toward the second half of the season in particular was that our violations for unnecessary roughness and helmet-to-helmet hits started to decline. . . .

"It became very apparent that the players were adapting their play toward the second half of the season, still playing very aggressively, very tough, but staying away from the helmet-to-helmet hits and still being able to break up those passes.

"I think even the players, the coaches, and certainly we at the Competition Committee, saw a very significant trend toward tough, aggressive play but playing within the rules."

CALDWELL PLEASED WITH SEWARD SIGNING: The Colts on Tuesday announced the signing of linebacker Adam Seward, a move that Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said he likes.

Caldwell told the Charlotte Observer that he believes Seward gives the Colts "a strong, athletic, very-capable backup behind starting middle linebacker Gary Brackett."

Seward (6-feet-3, 250 pounds), a fifth-round selection in the 2005 NFL Draft from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, started two games and played in 40 in four seasons with Carolina, registering 20 tackles, 29 special teams tackles and a fumble recovery. He played in nine games this past season.

Seward, who played all three linebacker positions in college, played almost exclusively on special teams this past season, finishing the season with five tackles and a fumble recovery on the unit. He had 14 tackles on defense and 10 on special teams in 2006.

He played all 16 games that season, starting twice.

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