This is the week NFL officials annually visit team training camps, review rules changes with the players and coaches, and work practices and scrimmages. A four-man entourage – field judge Craig Wrolstad, umpire Carl Paganelli, back judge Bill Smith and head linesman Greg Bradley – will work the Packers' "Family Night" practice on Saturday, and they met with reporters on Friday to present rules changes and major points of emphasis for 2011.
Here's a summary of the offseason changes detailed by Wrolstad in his presentation to the media:
The major rules change is the kickoff restraining line having been moved five yards forward to the 35-yard line. After the ball has been made ready for play, all kicking team players other than the kicker and a holder must be lined up five yards behind the restraining line.
Another high-profile change involves the use of replay review following plays in which touchdown is the call on the field. Replay review of all such plays will be initiated by the replay judge. That was previously the case inside the two-minute warnings. It will be the standard at all times in 2011. Review of plays that do not result in touchdown being the call on the field will not be initiated by the replay judge; they must be challenged by a coach to be reviewed.
Teams may not challenge a call if the team commits a foul that prevents the ball from being snapped on the next play. The team committing the foul will no longer be able to challenge the previous ruling. This rule is meant to prevent teams from stalling the action for the purpose of "buying" time to potentially challenge the call on the previous play.
Illegal launching, which has been a violation for the past several seasons, has been formally defined and added to the rule book. "It is an illegal launch if a player leaves both feet prior to contact to spring forward and upward into his opponent, and uses any part of his helmet to initiate forcible contact against any part of his opponent's body." This only applies against a player that is considered defenseless.
"Defenseless" has formally been defined for 2011 and eight categories of "defenseless" players have been created: 1.) a player in the act of throwing a pass. 2.) a receiver attempting to catch a pass who has not clearly become a runner. 3.) a runner in the grasp whose forward progress has been stopped. 4.) a returner attempting to field a kick in the air. 5.) a player on the ground at the end of a play. 6.) a kicker or punter during the kick or during the return. 7.) a quarterback at any time after a change of possession. 8.) a player who receives a blindside block when the blocker is moving toward his own end line and approaches the opponent from behind or from the side (peel-back block).
Inadvertent contact by a defender's hands to the quarterback's head must be forceful for it to constitute a violation. Translation? The Eagles would not be penalized this year, as they were last year, for touching Peyton Manning's head with a pinky finger.
The league's officials are also presenting these major points of emphasis:
What is and isn't a catch? Officials are to be vigilant in determining that a receiver has achieved possession and control of the ball, and has committed a football act with the ball in his possession, to rule that a reception has been achieved.
Receivers must maintain possession of the ball through contact with the ground to be judged to have made the catch. In other words, Calvin Johnson still didn't catch that pass.
An offensive player – a running back using a stiff arm, for example – may not grab a defender's facemask or deliver a forcible blow to the defender's head in the process of warding off the defender.
Horse collar tackles are still forbidden and officials have been advised to be especially sensitive to such violations. This rule is part of the NFL's heightened sensitivity to player safety.
Low blocks and chop blocks will receive more attention from officials.
"Error on the side of player safety," Wrolstad said is the instruction officials are receiving from the league.
Translation? Expect an increase in penalties in 2011.