Rule tweaks also on NFL's agenda

  • Article by: JUDD ZULGAD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 21, 2011 - 11:14 AM

The spotlight's on the lockout, but rule changes also are on the docket at the NFL meetings.

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Percy Harvin (12) returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh beat Minnesota by a final score of 27-17.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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Things hardly will be business as usual when the NFL holds its annual meetings this week. Usually, the most pressing subjects involve the competition committee and proposed rule changes.

While there again will be rule alterations considered, the main topic for Commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL owners and other executives at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans promises to be a work stoppage that entered its second week Friday and appears headed for a court hearing.

U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson has scheduled that hearing April 6 in St. Paul on the players' motion for a temporary injunction.

Aside from a letter sent to season-ticket holders, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf has been quiet on the lockout. Wilf will have an opportunity to talk during these meetings, which officially run from Monday morning through Tuesday afternoon. Many executives will arrive Sunday.

Leslie Frazier, who as a first-year coach has the right to hold two mandatory minicamps but can't even contact his players during a lockout, is scheduled to meet with the media Tuesday.

As for potential rule changes, the two biggest that will be brought up Monday are modifications of the kickoff and instant replay. In order to pass, the measure needs 75 percent approval (24 of 32 votes) by ownership.

Largely because of growing injury concerns, a kickoff would be moved from the 30-yard line to the 35; only the kicker would be able to line up more than 5 yards from the ball; touchbacks would place the ball on the 25 instead of the 20; and the wedge block, including the two-man wedge, would be eliminated.

Another proposal calls for instant-replay reviews on all scoring plays instead of just on challenges. That is currently only true in regulation for replays in the final 2 minutes of each half. If the rule passes, the plan is to get rid of the third challenge for coaches.

A third alteration would rewrite the defenseless-player rule and in part expand the protection given to a receiver until that player can protect himself or clearly becomes a runner -- a result of the NFL's desire to eliminate defenders from launching themselves at receivers.

Ray Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, said there will be strong support for making sure players understand that, when warranted, suspensions "will be an effective discipline for us." Fines were often the harshest discipline imposed this past season.

While the changes to the kickoff seems drastic, NFL competition committee chairman Rich McKay said "a number of clubs" in a survey proposed the potential elimination of the high-contact play all together.

"That's not where we were," McKay said. "The balancing act is trying to adjust the play and keep the play in the game but realize that modifications were probably in order with respect to the play itself. ... I know this: The play is such and the injury data is such and the video is such that it needs revision."

According to McKay's data, the average starting position for teams is around the 27-yard line, so starting at the 25 would be closer to the average.

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