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Block on Williams now illegal


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NFL bans type of block Foster employed on 'MNF'

Jeff Legwold, Rocky Mountain News

KAPALUA, Hawaii - With video of a block thrown by Denver Broncos tackle George Foster last season fresh in their minds, NFL franchise owners voted unanimously Wednesday to "take that kind of play out of the game."

Atlanta Falcons general manager Rich McKay, co-chairman the league's competition committee, said plays like Foster's in October now will be considered unnecessary roughness and subject to a 15-yard penalty and a fine.

"We were trying to catch more plays that we want out of the game, to take that kind of play out of the game," McKay said. "We don't anticipate a lot more flags on the field, we do anticipate the potential for fines. We definitely want to use an expansion of this rule."

Foster's block, which was legal last season and fractured the left ankle of Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Tony Williams in an Oct. 25 Monday Night Football game, was one of 10 plays owners were shown before their vote.

Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who answered national criticism of the block last season with video of his own to show it was a common practice among all teams, including by the Bengals in the same game, said Wednesday he favored any rules changes that helped player safety.

"I do think it's a good thing," Shanahan said.

Players also now could be fined by the league office for similar plays, even if they do not draw penalties in games. Plays like Warren Sapp's widely publicized hit on Green Bay Packers tackle Chad Clifton two seasons ago - Clifton suffered a devastating right hip injury after an interception on the play - also now will be included.

Owners also voted unanimously, 32-0, to ban "peel-back" blocks by offensive linemen away from the line of scrimmage. Such blocks most often occur on screen passes when the offensive lineman comes from the blind side to block a defensive player low from the side.

Now, the offensive player can block low on a peel back only if he gets his shoulders in front of the defensive player.

"We want to get these out of the game," said Mike Pereira, the NFL's director of officiating. "We've not been able to say those plays were illegal because of the way the rule was written."

The league will make a videotape for teams to watch in training camp to specifically see the plays that were legal last season that now will draw a penalty.

"It takes any play that's relatively a cheap shot that's away from the play and gets it out," Pereira said.

The owners tabled a measure to limit "horse collar" tackles - when a defender hooks his hands in the back or side of the collar of the shoulder pads and immediately pulls down an offensive player.

Philadelphia Eagles receiver Terrell Owens and Tennessee Titans receiver Tyrone Calico were severely injured on similar plays - both on tackles by Dallas Cowboys safety Roy Williams.

But McKay said he expected the measure to pass at league meetings in May, when the specific wording of the rule is worked out.

The owners also voted that coaches no longer will use a buzzer to signal a replay challenge to the referee. Instead, they will throw a red flag.

The committee, McKay said, believed coaches sometimes were using the buzzer to stop the game, then telling the official it was an "accident."

Measures to change pass-interference and illegal-contact penalties on receivers were defeated.

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