PRO FOOTBALL : New Rules Are Speeding Up the Game

Football is getting faster. The NFL has brought back the three-hour game this summer with the rule changes that were designed to speed things up.

"Most games are running like 2:53, 2:49, 2:50," NFL official Tony Veteri said Monday. "Even the Detroit-Houston game--two passing teams at the Astrodome--came in at 2:59. Last year it was often 3:15 or more."

Only exhibitions have been played so far, but the league expects to reach its three-hour goal during the regular season, too, NFL official Dick Maxwell said.

"The Raider game in San Francisco Sunday went 2:46," he said. "We had 17 games in the first two weeks, and the average time was 2:52."

Veteri, a supervisor in the office of chief umpire Art McNally, identified the new sideline rule as the main cause of the trend.

"Last year, the clock stopped when the ball was carried out of bounds, and it wasn't restarted until the snap," he said.

"This year, the clock restarts when the referee signals 'Ready'--except in the last few minutes of each half, when the old snap rule still applies.

"Another factor is the new 12-minute halftime--down from 15 minutes."

One other factor: During the exhibition season, the NFL abandons instant-replay officiating at neutral sites. There have been six of those so far.

"That helped the Rams play their Berlin game in 2:34," said Maxwell, the league's director of broadcast services.

Instant-replay reviews will be limited this season, in any case, to two minutes each. For those wanting a speedier game, it's here.

The downside to faster football is less football, in the view of Dick Steinberg, new general manager of the New York Jets.

"They estimate that we'll lose seven or eight plays a game, maybe 10," he said. "Some people aren't really in favor of that."

Indeed, most club employees opposed the speed-up rules, arguing that their fans weren't against long games, just dull games.

"In 29 years in Dallas, I never once received a letter from a fan complaining that a game was too long," said Tex Schramm, former president of the Cowboys, now president of the NFL's international spring league.

The push for speed came from NFL Easterners, whose bedtime hour was sometimes delayed past 1 a.m. Tuesdays, after long Monday night TV games.

The league will decide after the season whether the change is worth the loss of a few plays. Would an important game have been won or lost on the seven or eight plays that are gone forever? There could be controversies.

It's not exactly a doubleheader, but the Raiders and Rams are both playing Saturday.

Former UCLA quarterbacks Troy Aikman of the Dallas Cowboys and Jay Schroeder of the Raiders will be matched in a Coliseum exhibition at 1 p.m.

The Rams, whose starters played a big game in Berlin, will return to Anaheim at 7 p.m. for an exhibition with the San Diego Chargers.

Younger quarterbacks excelled for several NFL teams during the weekend.

Jet rookie Troy Taylor completed five of five in a winning rally. A New Orleans rookie, Mike Buck, completed three of four and threw the winning pass.

Former Ram Jeff Carlson completed 11 of 18 for 208 yards to lead Tampa Bay. And, coming back from an injury, Mark Vlasic completed 11 of 13 to carry San Diego.

"A lot of people think this is the year of the new quarterback," said Steinberg, the man who drafted Cal's Taylor. "Troy is cool, confident and mobile. For this season, we have (Ken O'Brien and Tony Eason), but Troy plays like a veteran already."

Carlson, drafted fourth by the Rams in 1989, and Buck, the big rookie from Maine, won a mention from former coach Sid Gillman.

"Buck was the most impressive young quarterback I saw in last week's practices in London, when I was there for the Raider game," Gillman said. "He has the arm, and he sets up and unloads the way it should be done.

"Carlson is a big, tall, beautiful prospect. He has been behind famous quarterbacks here (Jim Everett) and there (Vinny Testaverde), but he's an NFL passer."

As for Vlasic, if the young Iowan has had mixed reviews in his brief Charger career, so has incumbent Billy Joe Tolliver. According to those who are close to new General Manager Bobby Beathard, the Chargers are confident that, this year, they have almost everything else.

When Everett was on the field, the Rams played smooth, midseason-caliber football in Germany against the Kansas City Chiefs. Everett has apparently even picked up another receiver, Derrick Faison, a free agent from Howard.

Assuming the Rams have someone who can run the ball--which may be assuming too much--they're strong enough to eliminate the champion 49ers this year.

The real question of the Ram game was whether the Chiefs are about to solve their quarterback problem, and they couldn't have been heartened by what they saw.

Veteran Steve Pelluer was constrained by the sort of inconsistencies that led him to the end of the line in Dallas.

The Cowboy team, unhappily for Pelluer, aged and its talent fell off. He didn't have a fair chance in Dallas.

Although Pelluer will get another chance with the Chiefs, they are still planning to lead with Steve DeBerg--meaning that in the AFC West, Denver is still alone with a settled quarterback position.

The Broncos have John Elway and a competent backup, Gary Kubiak. The Raiders, Chargers, Chiefs and Seahawks have questions.

Some NFL scouts have been second-guessing the 49ers' first two big personnel moves of the post-Bill Walsh generation.

To begin with, the 49ers traded defensive back Tim McKyer, their best cover man. Then in the first round of the draft last spring, they picked a 170-pound part-time scatback, Dexter Carter.

And in Candlestick Park Saturday, their critics looked better than the 49ers did.

With McKyer in Miami, cornerback Don Griffin was outplayed on the opening Raider touchdown pass, Schroeder to swift Sam Graddy. Although Griffin slipped, Graddy had outrun him long before Schroeder's pass arrived.

And although Carter demonstrated his speed on his longest punt return, he didn't show anything else expected of a No. 1 choice.

The 49ers drafted Carter because they admire the New York Giants' scatback, David Meggett, who as a rookie had a big season last year. But the Giants selected the 175-pound Meggett, not on the first round, but on the fifth--about the right spot for a scatback.

Raider owner Al Davis announced his opposition to the run-and-shoot offense the other day and reaffirmed his allegiance to Raider football--which combines power plays and vertical passing--as developed a quarter century or more ago by Sid Gillman.

"I'm not sure the (run-and-shoot) will win Super Bowls," Davis said, noting that power and passing have led the Raiders to three NFL championships.

Davis was a Gillman assistant at San Diego when the Raider passing game evolved in the 1960s.

Since then, the Raider leader has stuck with basically the same system despite the fact that Gillman has updated it about five times.

Gillman, furthermore, now favors a one-back running attack, which a successor, Dan Henning, uses at San Diego. The Raiders are a two-back team.

Today, old friends Davis and Gillman agree on little but the inadequacy of run-and-shoot plays and the wide-open future.

"The '90s are open for any (team) to dominate," Davis said. "We're not conceding (this decade) to anybody."

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