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NFL owners table 'launching' rule, approve replay change

NEW ORLEANS — A rule that would give offensive players more protection — and perhaps make things more difficult for defensive players like the Steelers' James Harrison — will be revisited by NFL owners when they meet again in May.

The owners tabled a recommendation by the league's competition committee to prohibit defensive players from "launching" before making a hit as well as adding protection for receivers.

"The coaches didn't feel it was as clear as it could have been," Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian said Tuesday near the end of the NFL owners meetings. "I think there was some confusion about what the rule was trying to do."

Steelers president Art Rooney II had expressed reservations about the proposed changes, saying Monday that they might put too much responsibility on referees to make judgment calls.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who has made player safety a top priority, said clarifications will be made to the rules changes and presented again to the owners.

At least 24 out of 32 owners have to approve the rule changes if they vote on them in May.

The competition committee had sought to eliminate any gray area when it comes to defenseless players by defining what the NFL considers launching — as well as the eight instances in which a player is considered in a defenseless position.

The recommendation by the competition committee followed the NFL's crackdown on dangerous hits last October. Harrison, the Pro Bowl outside linebacker, was fined three times for $95,000 after the league aggressively enforced rules regarding unnecessary roughness.

Ray Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of operations, said last week that the league will suspend players this season who are repeat or egregious violators of those rule.

"I never thought (Harrison) had malicious intent in any of those circumstances," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said yesterday. "The guy's just trying to play the game the way he knows how, within the guidelines that are prescribed by the NFL.

"I think that's a tightrope we're all trying to walk. With that there's going to be some growing pains if you will, and I think we all experienced that in some form or fashion a year ago during the season and really fully expect it to be a smoother journey in 2011."

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, a member of the competition committee, agreed.

"We have seen a change," the McDonald native said. "You always coach to keep their eyes and head up. When you lead with the head, you risk injury to yourself."

Additional Information:

Passing muster

Here are the two rules that NFL owners approved Tuesday following recommendations from the league's competition committee:

? Change to kickoff: Teams will kick off from the 35-yard line instead of the 30-yard line. In addition, no player other than the kicker will be allowed to start more than 5 yards behind the kickoff line. Two proposals from the competition committee were rejected: putting the ball at the 25-yard line instead of the 20-yard line after touchbacks, and prohibiting two-man wedges on kickoff returns.

Instant replay: Any scoring plays are now subject to review by a replay official • the same as it has been for any play in the last two minutes of each half. In taking the onus off coaches for challenging plays in which a touchdown, field goal or safety is scored, the competition committee had recommended that coaches receive only two challenges per game. But coaches will still be awarded a third challenge if they are successful on their first two challenges. The Steelers and Raiders were the only teams to vote against it.

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