© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002
New ways to throw a flag
In an attempt to clean up the game, make it safer for its players and clear up some ambiguities in current rules, the NFL has reaffirmed some of its rules and added a few new ones for the 2002 season.
As is customary, the NFL sent out a crew of officials to training camps to brief coaches, players and media about implementation of the new rules.
In a comprehensive video presentation, the league gave examples of what will no longer be accepted or ignored in the league this year.
Citing the need to promote sportsmanship and safety, director of football operations Gene Washington's message to players and coaches was simply: "Taunting and unsportsmanlike conduct can tarnish the game. They have no part in our game."
In a nutshell, here are a few of the new rules and points of emphasis.
An opponent may not initiate helmet-to-helmet contact to the quarterback at any time after a possession change. A quarterback who assumes a defensive position, or tries to tackle the interceptor, can be blocked but never helmet-to-helmet and never low. The flag comes with a 15-yard penalty and possible disqualification.
The pylon is now inbounds. A players is no longer considered out-of-bounds if he knocks the pylon attempting to catch a ball. He is still considered out-of-bounds if he touches a boundary line.
Chop blocks on kicking plays are now illegal. The goal is to protect players from injuries commonly sustained with such low blocks. This carries a 15-yard penalty.
Players may now bat or punch the ball away from an opponent in the attempt to cause a fumble. Prior to the change, defenders were only allowed to strip the ball away.
The game clock will not stop inside the two-minute warning when the player who originally takes the snap is tackled behind the scrimmage. Before, defenses were penalized with time stoppage after stopping a player in the backfield.
All fouls that occur after a play is over are considered dead-ball fouls and enforcement will include down and distance. If an offensive player commits the foul, his team will be penalized 15 yards and given a new first-and-10 series.
As in basketball, the game clock will not start on a kickoff until the ball is touched by a player on the field who is not the kicker.
Taunting: Any aggressive verbal abuse directed at a player, official or toward the opposing bench can be flagged as taunting and slapped with a 15-yard penalty. For example, in a preseason game against the Redskins, Washington running back Stephen Davis clearly shoved Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp. The shove was an automatic 15-yard penalty. But Sapp was also hit with a 15-yard penalty for taunting Davis and inciting the shove.
Alignment consistency: Offensive guards, tackles and tight ends must be lined up so that their helmets are in line with at least the waist of the center. A number tackles and tight ends lean back to give themselves an extra step on defenders. Against the Redskins, Bucs right tackle Kenyatta Walker was flagged a number of times for being too far back and the illegal procedure penalty cost the Bucs 5 yards each time. In the past, officials have been lenient on the enforcement of this rule.
-- Compiled by Roger Mills using information from the NFL KICKOFF 2002 Information Guide.