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NFL rule change: No more lowering helmet to initiate contact

The NFL’s rule makers are putting their heads together … about how to keep players from putting their heads together.

The league delivered a presentation to reporters Tuesday in an effort to clarify what appeared to be a hastily adopted rule at the March meetings, one that banned players from lowering their heads while making tackles. Some players have complained that will fundamentally change the game.

Al Riveron, the league’s senior vice president of officiating, showed a series of videos of egregious, helmet-first collisions, and explained that officials will be watching for players who lower their head in order to initiate contact, regardless of position. It could be a running back dropping his head to barrel through a defender for extra yards, just as easily as it could be a safety crashing down to stop him at the line of scrimmage.

“We did have coaches say, ‘We always taught [ballcarriers] that … your idea is to lower your head and get as many yards as you can,’ ” said Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee. “The answer to that is, ‘Yes, it was. But no, it can’t be.’ You’ve got to teach them now that he’s got to pick a side of that person in front of him and try to get as many yards as he can, not be lowering his head and trying to do it wrong.”

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Starting this season, those fouls will be subject to a 15-yard penalty and possible ejection.

“Are there certain situations where this is going to be easier for us to be able to call than in some areas of the field? No doubt about it,” Riveron said. “But remember, just because it’s not called on the field … that club and player will be notified of an infraction on Monday or Tuesday and there might be some disciplinary action involved.

“It’s important when we say ‘to initiate contact,’ because there will be some situations where players lower their head to defend themselves, they’re not initiating contact, they’re defending themselves.”

The league adopted two other rules Tuesday. For teams kicking off, there are no more running starts, and configuration rules have been changed to make that play safer. And all player ejections now are subject to replay review.

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As for the lowering-the-head rule, it is designed to eliminate unnecessary use of the helmet. The contact does not have to be to a player’s head or neck area, but to anywhere on the body.

“Unfortunately, we see quite a bit of it,” Riveron said. “So, I’m not going to say it happens three or four times a game, but it happens.”

The hits that will be subject to ejection are the ones in which the player initiating contact has an unobstructed path to his target and, instead of choosing another option, clearly decides to lower his head and use his helmet as a weapon. Those examples are obvious on video.

Ejections will be made on the field, but will be reviewable by Riveron and his team in the officiating command center at NFL headquarters in New York.

“We will not bring the referee over, we will not talk to the replay official,” he said. “Immediately, when I learn in New York that there’s an ejection, I will ask the network, ‘Give me everything you’ve got.’ I will take a look at it, I will rule on it, and I will say, ‘Yes, he’s ejected,’ or, ‘No, leave him in the game.’ ”

Even if the ejection is overruled, the 15-yard penalty stays.

Ownership change

In his first public comments as new owner of the Carolina Panthers, billionaire David Tepper made it clear Tuesday that the NFL team is staying put.

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“What’s the name of the team? It’s the Carolina Panthers,” said Tepper, 60, a hedge fund manager who was unanimously approved by owners to take over for Jerry Richardson, who founded the franchise in 1993. “There’s a logical place for this team and it’s Charlotte. It’s the Carolina Panthers.”

The Panthers are angling for a new stadium, and Tepper hinted that might not necessarily wind up in Charlotte.

“This team has got to have some sort of presence in the Carolinas,” he said. “Charlotte is the logical place for a stadium. As far as a new stadium, you’re asking me too much. The only thing I have a market on right now is lack of knowledge and stupidity. I’ve got a lot of that. I’ll learn a lot more in the future.”

This was not his introduction to the league. Tepper formerly owned a minority stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“David is an insightful, passionate and creative person who will no doubt figure out how to make any situation even better,” said Steelers minority owner Larry Paul, whose family owns the largest share of that franchise not owned by the Rooney family. “His competitiveness will no doubt benefit the Panthers and the Charlotte community tremendously.

“I’m just glad he chose to buy an NFC team.”

Anthem talk

Owners spent a significant portion of the first day talking about what type of national anthem policy to establish for the 2018 season. Players kneeling in protest during the anthem has been one of the league’s most divisive and controversial issues in memory.

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Although there is no clear consensus about how best to move forward, owners are expected to continue their conversation Wednesday.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer


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