During the Cleveland Browns' training camp practice on Monday, defensive backs were wearing kick boxing gloves. Seriously.
The team is training for a prize fight of a 2014 campaign, but that's not why they were sporting the boxing gloves. The Browns' coaching staff wants their defensive backs to be proactive of the new defensive contact and holding rules – because they are serious.
Veteran NFL referee Pete Morelli met with reporters in Berea last week to review the rule changes. The video from the NFL described the new defensive rules as follows: "Defenders cannot initiate contact with eligible receivers more than five yards from the line of scrimmage when the quarterback is in the pocket with the ball. The covering official will recognize the contact, and then look back to the quarterback. If he is in the pocket with the ball or in the process of releasing it, it will be a foul for illegal contact."
In Saturday's scrimmage, Browns defensive backs were flagged on more than one occasion for initiating contact, specifically grabbing the receiver's jerseys.
The rule change, obviously, makes things more difficult for the Browns' defense. It's no secret that Cleveland employs a press-man coverage scheme, essentially built upon cornerbacks being able to use their physicality to disrupt receivers' routes. Cornerback Joe Haden says the coaching staff and players are adjusting and drills like using kick boxing gloves do help.
"You can't open the gate," said Haden. "The thing is we've got to take the coaching that they're giving us right now to just make sure we do our work in the first five yards. We've been working on that every individual – getting our step replace, making sure we put our hand on receivers and then after that five you've got to get off of them."
Other 2014 rules changes and points of emphasis from NFLmedia.com:
• UNNECESSARY ROUGHNESS:In the interest of player safety, the prohibition on offensive blockers rolling up on the back of the legs of a defender has been extended to include the side of the legs. It is still legal to cut block a player from the front or side, but once a blocker rolls up on either the back or side of the legs, it is now a foul. All unnecessary roughness violations result in a 15-yard penalty and may warrant potential discipline.
• UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT:The rule prohibiting players from using the ball, pylon or other objects as props as part of a demonstration has been expanded to include the crossbar and goalpost. All unsportsmanlike conduct violations result in a 15-yard penalty and may warrant potential discipline.
• INSTANT REPLAY:The referee will now be able to consult with senior members of the officiating department during replay reviews. In addition, the recovery of a loose ball in the field of play will now be reviewable. This includes fumbles, backward passes and kicks. For a comprehensive list of reviewable plays, please see page 18.
• GOAL POSTS:The uprights will now extend to 35 feet above the crossbar, up from 30 feet in previous seasons, to help officials make definitive rulings on field-goal attempts that previously crossed above the top of the uprights.
• GAME CLOCK:The clock will no longer be stopped after a quarterback sack outside two minutes of either half. If the player who originally takes the snap is tackled behind the line of scrimmage, the game clock will remain running. Going forward, the clock will continue to run unless it is stopped for a different reason, such as a penalty or team timeout.
There will also be points of emphasison several existing rules this season (although the rules themselves have not changed):
• All rules that encourage player safetywill continue to be strictly enforced. The focus is on eliminating these tactics from the game. Players must avoid hitting or blocking opponents in the head or neck area, or using the crown or hairline parts of the helmet to make forcible contact anywhere on the body. Both offensive and defensive players receive defenseless player protections in certain situations, including when a blocker approaches a defender from the side or from behind.
• Sportsmanshipis always a point of emphasis. The use of abusive, threatening or insulting language directed at opponents, teammates, coaches, officials or representatives of the league is covered under unsportsmanlike conduct playing rules. This includes racial slurs, comments regarding sexual orientation or other verbal abuse. Coaches, officials and other league personnel will be held to the same high standard.
• Rules relating to illegal hands to the facehave also been clarified. It is a foul if direct and forcible contact to the head, neck or face of an opponent, regardless of whether or not it pins the opponent's head back or is prolonged. This standard applies to players on both sides of the ball.
• Movement on the offensive linewill continue to be a point of emphasis. Prior to the snap, any quick or abrupt movement by an offensive player or players in unison that simulates the start of a play is prohibited. These actions will result in a five-yard false start penalty regardless of whether or not the defense reacts. The rules governing extra point attemptsdid not change, but will result in an experiment during the preseason.
• For the NFL/Hall of Fame Game and the first two weeks of the preseason, the ball will be spotted at the 15-yard line for extra point kick attempts. This will be done to gather information regarding possible future changes to make these plays more competitive and exciting for fans. The two-point try will remain at the two-yard line during this experiment.