BEREA, Ohio -- Veteran NFL referee Ed Hochuli and a crew of on-field officials spent Saturday morning at the Cleveland Browns’ training facility to explain to the players and coaches, and later to the media covering the team, the rules changes instituted by the league this past offseason.
One of those rules Hochuli talked about following practice affect ball-carriers past the line of scrimmage.
If an offensive player is outside of the tackle box and squares up to a defender, lowers his head and delivers a forcible blow with the crown of the helmet, the team will be assessed a 15-yard penalty from the spot of the foul, according to the NFL, which released a video with the rules changes early in the offseason.
Should the offensive player have a long run before delivering such a blow, the penalty will be assessed from the spot, but it will remain a first-and-10. If the ball-carrier is stopped short of the line of scrimmage, the penalty will be assessed from the end of the play as a dead-ball foul.
“He has to be clearly outside the tackles, basically in the open field,” Hochuli said. “We’ll see it because it’s out in the open field, and secondly, the running back has to actually line up the defender. Instead of trying to avoid the defender, like they normally do, he would have to line up the defender, and then, he’s got to lower his head and hit with the very top of his helmet, not the forehead, not the face. That jumps out at you.”
If a player is on the edge of the tackle box or in a goal-line situation, the play will not be considered a penalty.
The tackle box is designated as the space between the outside shoulders of the left and right tackles, extending to the backline behind the offense and three yards beyond the line of scrimmage in front of the line.
The league also made a modification to the “tuck rule.”
Under the new rule, loss of control of the football once the tuck motion has been initiated is considered a fumble. If the quarterback’s hand is still in a passing motion, the play will be considered an incomplete pass.
“If the quarterback starts his hand forward and the ball comes out before he starts moving his hand back, it has always been an incomplete pass; it will continue to be an incomplete pass,” Hochuli said. “If he starts bringing it back and the ball gets knocked out, if the referee rules an incomplete pass, which happens because we lose vision of the ball, we can go to replay. We can change it to a fumble and give it to whoever recovered. On video, there has to be a clear recovery. If there’s a pile-up, we stick to the incomplete pass ruling.”
The NFL has made it mandatory for players to wear thigh and knee pads during games, and it is up to the uniform official to inform on-field officials of the absence of that protective equipment.
“In order for that to be applied, he would come to us during a timeout or change of possession and he’d say, ‘No. 74 doesn’t have knee pads,’” Hochuli said. “Then, we’d go to No. 74 and say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to leave the game until you get the knee pads.’ If he comes back in without the knee pads, it’s a five-yard penalty. If it happens a second time, it’s a 15-yard penalty.”
Hochuli also discussed the officials’ responsibility in watching out for players who may exhibit signs of injury following each play.
“The number one thing we’re looking for is player safety, so we’re going to err on the side of sending a player out for a play,” Hochuli said. “There are times when it’s obvious. Sometimes, you can’t tell that a guy may be woozy. There’s times where we see a player stumbling around or he’s just not right, or doesn’t respond to a question. Then, we’ll go ahead and send him out for a play. We want to err on the side of safety.”