SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- There were no admissions from NFL officials monitoring San Francisco 49ers practices this week. We had to settle for their annual explanation of rules changes and points of emphasis.
One change to special-teams rules requires defenders within 1 yard of the line of scrimmage to line up with their entire bodies -- not just their helmets -- outside the long-snappers' shoulders. The rule also applies to punts, not just field goals or point-after tries.
This special protection is welcome news for the men who make their livings looking back through their legs and firing the ball with accuracy and velocity.
"The goal just turned into I want to play until I'm 60," wise-cracking 49ers snapper Brian Jennings said Saturday.
Jennings, 33, said he's now shooting for "a smooth 37 years" in the NFL.
The new rules aren't quite that snapper friendly, of course, and sometimes these changes come with unintended consequences. Previous restrictions on where punt rushers could line up led defenders to attack snappers from the sides, sometimes with dangerous high-low hits.
While Jennings appreciates the new accommodations, he would prefer a college-style rule preventing defenders from roughing up snappers. The NFL version is easier to enforce, however, because it focuses on alignment, not degree of damage inflicted.
Also as part of the NFL rule, the snapping team must wait for the official spotting the ball to run 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage before snapping on punts, Jennings said. Teams will have to wait for a signal before snapping, potentially threatening rhythm. Delay-of-game penalties could become a concern if, say, coaches use play-clock time deciding whether to go for a first down.
Jennings expects opponents to find creative ways to maximize opportunities under the new rules. That's OK, though. Jennings is already scheming on ways of his own.
"I think I'm going to get some much larger shoulder pads," he joked. "I'm going to get about a foot extension on each side."
2009 rulebook: During a field-goal attempt or a kick try, a Team B player, who is within 1 yard of the line of scrimmage at the snap, must have his helmet outside the snapper’s shoulder pads.
2010 rulebook: During a punt, field-goal attempt or a try kick, a Team B player, who is within 1 yard of the line of scrimmage at the snap, must have his entire body outside the snapper’s shoulder pads.