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Monday, March 18
'Tuck rule' among proposed rule changes

By John Clayton

Buccaneers general manager Rich McKay and Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who are co-chairmen of the NFL Competition Committee, researched old booklets of past owners' meetings in an effort to find where in the world anyone came up with the "tuck rule."

Throughout the years, they found plenty of discussion about the now- controversial rule that cost the Raiders a chance at a championship.

What they saw from a 1981 booklet surprised them even more. That year, there were 36 proposed rule changes. This year there are only nine. Call it progress even though plenty of time will be allotted Tuesday for discussion about the tuck rule. It is not known whether there will be a time limit for rebuttal by Raiders owner Al Davis.

"Times have gotten a little better,íí McKay said.

None of the nine rule changes being discussed are going to revolutionize the game. Because of the Patriots-Raiders playoff game, the tuck rule discussion will be the sexiest. Why? Because not even the Competition Committee can come to a consensus as to what to do.

For discussion purposes only, the committee put out suggestions into language changes to see if there is a solution. McKay, Fisher and the committee went back decades to see the reason behind the tuck rule. For those outside of Oakland and New England who donít know, Tom Brady, the Patriots quarterback, had a fumble ruled an incompletion after referee Walt Coleman watched replays and saw that Brady brought the ball from his passing motion to his side.

Under the current rules, Coleman had the right to call an incomplete pass up until the moment he brought the ball to the side of his body. Replay confirmed that, so the ruling was correct.

"I watched the game live and I thought it was a fumble,íí Fisher said. "Once I saw the replay, I could see that it was going to be ruled an incompletion.íí

The call was right, so the league and the owners will discuss whether to change the rule Tuesday. The language change would be to give the referee the latitude to rule the play a fumble once the continuous motion of the quarterback stops.

Hereís the problem, though. Making such a change would create more of a gray area for officials. Tucking the ball on the side is pretty clear. If itís not tucked, the call is incomplete, not a fumble. Itís simple.

"The line now is completely that unless itís tucked into the body, itís an incompletion,íí McKay said. "From the past we learned, when it doubt, itís called an incomplete pass.íí

More than likely, there will be so much debate on the tuck rule that nothing will be done and the rule will stay the same. Officials will like it that way. Several coaches and general managers will like it that way. Others wonít.

Here are the other rule changes under consideration:

  • Making sure that home teams donít pipe in loud music, noises or cheers through their public address system when a visiting team is breaking the huddle before a play. A league official will be at the game monitoring such events. Though there will not be an on-the-field penalty, there will be a substantial fine if the home team violates the rule.

  • Giving the quarterback more protection from helmet-to-helmet hits when there is a change of possession because of a fumble or interception. A personal foul penalty will be called against any defensive player who hits the quarterback in a change of possession. As an example, Browns defensive tackle Gerard Warren was fined but not penalized for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell following an interception.

  • A chop block penalty will be called -- if the rule change is passed -- against any two players who give a chop block against a defender on punts. Before, chop blocks were called only on offensive plays. A chop block is when two players execute high-low blocks that potentially can injure a defender.

  • There is a proposal to not start the clock on kickoffs throughout the game until the ball is touched by the receiving team. Currently, the clock starts upon kickoff unless there is two minutes left in either half. By expanding the rule beyond the two-minute warnings, the league believes it can save two plays.

  • The league will try to let defensive players have more latitude in batting the ball out of the hands of an offensive player. There is an obsolete rule that prohibits the winding up of an arm to bat the ball out of the hands of a player.

  • There is another timing proposal that will keep the clock running during the final two minutes of the game after a quarterback is sacked. Currently, the clock is stopped when a quarterback is sacked in the final two minutes. The league believes this is penalizing good defensive plays and rewarding a bad offensive play.

  • There is a good chance that the league will call a touchdown involving any play in which an offensive player touches the pylon when he is in bounds. Last year, two plays were ruled out of bounds instead of touchdowns when a player touched the pylon.

  • Hereís a good one. If it passes, a kicking team wonít be given a second chance to make an onside kick if the ball goes out of bounds. Currently, if a team kicks an onside kick out of bounds, the kickoff team gets a second chance.

  • A simplification is being suggested to understand the down-and-distance will be after continuous-action fouls.

    The committee voted against a Chiefs proposal to suit up all 53 players on the active roster. The league will adjust the tiebreaking systems for the playoffs because of the new eight-division, four-team formats. There wonít be any change to the current developmental squad system of five players per team at this stage. There has been some thoughts of adding a sixth player -- a quarterback -- if three quarterbacks were on the active roster. That wonít happen at this meeting.

    Still, there will be plenty of discussion.

    John Clayton is a senior writer for

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