The NFL will be more aggressive in suspending players next season for illegal hits, and also could make changes to instant replay and kickoffs.
Ray Anderson, the league’s chief disciplinarian, said Wednesday that repeat offenders or players committing flagrant illegal hits will have a much greater chance of being suspended during the 2011 season.
No suspensions were handed down in 2010 even after the NFL’s crackdown on such hits, in part because “we were operating under the principle unless you have given sufficient advance notice of what the results could be, you need to be more lenient,” Anderson said.
“Frankly, now that the notice has been given, players and coaches and clubs are very aware of what the emphasis is and we won’t have that hesitation,” Anderson said. “Everyone will be very clearly on notice now that a suspension is very viable for us and we will exercise it … when it comes to illegal hits to the head and neck area and to defenseless players.”
The NFL increased the amount on its fines for such hits last year after a series of fouls on one October weekend. Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison was fined $75,000 for one such tackle, while Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson and New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather were docked $50,000 for hits to defenseless opponents that weekend.
Many more fines were implemented throughout the remainder of last season but no player was suspended, even though suspensions were considered, Anderson said.
“We want to be much more clear on what can be a suspendable incident,” Anderson said. “The emphasis is on head and neck hits and what a defenseless player is. And we will work hard that people understand what is a repeat offender and what is a flagrant foul.”
The league looks at two years worth of plays to determined repeat offenders.
Rules defining a defenseless player will be expanded and now will include eight categories:
_A quarterback in the act of throwing;
_A receiver trying to catch a pass;
_A runner already in the grasp of tacklers and having his forward progress stopped;
_A player fielding a punt or a kickoff;
_A kicker or punter during the kick;
_A quarterback at any time after change of possession;