Jason Brewer, the fine editor for the Eagles SBN blog, Bleeding Green Nation, attended a seminar at Eagles' training camp where NFL officials explained some of the rule changes for the upcoming season.
1.) Umpire move - The Umpire that stands behind the defensive line will be moved 15 yards behind the offensive line. Injuries to the umps and the fact so many Wide Receivers use the ump as a screen were listed as the reason. Inside two minutes, the referee will return to his old position so he can quickly spot the ball.
2.) Fair Catch Interference - Last year in the Titans/Texans game, Jacoby Jones called for a fair catch, had the ball bounce off his chest, and was subsequently hit. Because the ball bounced off Jones and didn't hit the turf first, officials awarded possession back to Houston and tossed in a 15-yard penalty for fair catch interference.
So the NFL clarified the rule: If a player has signaled for a fair catch, he must be allowed a chance to recover a muffed kick before it hits the ground. However, under the new rule the kicking team is not assessed a 15 yard penalty for the hit. If the ball hits the ground or the returner does not signal for a fair catch, then the ball is live.
3.) When a Runner Loses his Helmet - Starting this year, a play will be blown dead as soon as the runner's helmet comes off during the play. This only applies to player with the ball. As soon as the helmet comes off, the play is dead and the ball is spotted where the helmet came off. It will be treated as if the player was down by contact.
4.) Hitting Defenseless Players - An illegal hit on a defenseless player is when the initial force of contact by a players head, shoulder, or forearm is to the head or neck area. A "defenseless player" will be defined as a QB in the act of passing, A WR in the act of making a catch, a kick or punt returner in the act of making a catch, a runner who is in the grass or whose forward progress has been stopped, a player on the ground at the end of the play, a QB after a change of possession, and a kicker or punter after the ball is kicked. Violations will result in a 15 yard unnecessary roughness penalty.
Example: If a WR has made a catch, but has not had time to defend himself a defender can not launch himself into the WR with his his helmet, shoulder, or forearm in a way that strikes the WR's head or neck area. "Launching" means leaving the ground to make the hit. If the defender doesn't "launch" himself or the WR had time to defend himself then it is not a penalty.
Let's say you are trying to get in position to score at the end of the half or game and have no timeouts left and then have a pass ruled incomplete with 9 seconds left. The official upstairs calls for a replay and if the replay shows that the pass was complete, there is an automatic runoff of ten seconds and the half/game is over. You'd be better off having it stay incomplete and try again to gain a few more yards the next play or spike the ball to kick a FG, but now don't have a choice in the matter. I asked that scenario to the officials and they acknowledge the issue but said now you can't stop the clock with that 10 second automatic runoff. Hope this doesn't end up hurting anyone, but we'll see.
The fair catch rule and the automatic 10-second run off rules I really don't like. 10 seconds seems like a very high number. If it was the 2009 Redskins, certainly, but it doesn't take most teams to get to a ball and spike it. After all, it's the referees that are the stopping the clock.