NFL Owners today approved 4 rules changes and adjustments that directly affect player safety.
The first change is in regards to onside kicks. The NFL has been concerned about the violent collisions that take place and wanted to find a way to make onside kicks safer. Under the new Onside Kick Rule, players on the kickoff team will be spaced accordingly. First, at least four players of the kicking team must be on each side of the kicker. Second, at least three players must be lined up outside each inbounds line, including one who must be outside the yard-line number.
The second change involves down-field blocks on "defenseless defenders", known as the Hines Ward Rule. For our purposes, think Eddie McCaffrey in Super Bowl XXXII. A 15-yard penalty will be enforced if a player delivers a blindside block to the head of a defender using his helmet, forearm or shoulder. The penalty will be enforced if a helmet, shoulder or forearm strikes the head or neck of the defender.
The third change involves receiver saftey and is an enhancement to the 'defensless receiver' rule that has become so prominnent in the past. We'll call this one the Anquan Boldin Rule. In the past, officials gave an unnecessary roughness penalty to a defender if he delivered a helmet hit to a receiver going across the middle of the field or any spot on the field in which he appeared to be defenseless. Starting this fall, the penalty will also apply if the defender hits the defenseless receiver in the head or neck with his forearm or shoulder.
Lastly, in what we will unfortunately call the Kevin Everett Rule, the 'Wedge' on kickoff returns has been disallowed. The wedge is simply three players lined up in a blocking triangle that a returner follows as it plows up the field against kickoff coverage. After watching years of tape, the Competition Committee felt the wedge was causing too many injuries. Starting this fall, no more than two receiver team players may intentionally form a wedge to help the returner. The penalty is 15 yards and will be enforced from the spot of the wedge. It will be called if three or more players line up shoulder to shoulder within two yards of each other to lead the blocking.