Closer look at NFL rule changes

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- On Monday, a group of NFL officials visited Gillette Stadium for their annual visit to highlight the rule changes for the upcoming season. The discussion was led by back judge Billy Smith, in his 17th year in the league. The following rules changes were detailed in the presentation:

1. Protection of defenseless players has been expanded. In particular, it is illegal for a defensive player to use his helmet, shoulder, or forearm to hit a defenseless receiver in the head or neck area, even if the receiver has completed a catch but is not yet in a position to protect himself. The league has also made it a point of emphasis to call unnecessary roughness penalties for players who spear or launch themselves at all defenseless players, not just receivers.

2. Protection of long snappers has been expanded. In 2009, the rules were changed so that defenders on the line of scrimmage could only line up with their helmet outside the long snapper. In 2010, defenders on the line of scrimmage must have their entire body outside the snapper; a violation will draw a 5-yard illegal formation penalty.

3. Helmet must stay on ball-carrier. If the helmet of a ball carrier comes off, the play will be blown dead at the spot and treated as if the ball carrier was down-by-contact.

4. Muffs on a fair catch. If a returner signals for a fair catch, but muffs the kick or punt, the returner is given an opportunity to catch the ball again before it hits the ground. If a member of the kicking team interferes before the ball hits the ground, the returning team will be given the ball at the spot of the interference, but no penalty will be accessed against the kicking team. Previously, a fair catch interference penalty was assessed against the kicking team.

5. Dead-ball fouls at end of half. Dead-ball fouls by the defense at the end of a half will no longer result in an untimed down for the offense. The penalty will be assessed at the beginning of the second half, or if applicable, the overtime period. This brings the rule in line with the rules for an offensive dead ball foul at the end of a half.

6. Re-playing punts that make contact with equipment. Punts that strike a video board, guide wire, or sky cam will be blown dead and the down will be re-played and the clock reset. Coaches may challenge whether the ball hit the object or not; the replay official will also be permitted to review the play prior to the 2-minute warnings.

7. Overtime rules in playoffs. For postseason games only, overtime rules have been adjusted. Each team gets at least one opportunity to receive possession, unless the first team with possession scores a touchdown. Once each team has an opportunity for possession, normal sudden death rules will apply.

8. Clock management on reviews. In the case where there is a replay review in the final minute of either half that results in a ruling where the game clock would not have been stopped if the correct ruling had been made on the field, there will be a 10-second runoff.

9. Jersey number change. Permitted numbers for linebackers and defensive lineman have been expanded to account for hybrid players. Also, a player moving from one eligible-receiver position to another eligible-receiver position (for example, running back to wide receiver) does not have to change his number.