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Defensive player is now allowed to lend an ear

September 14, 2008|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

The NFL season is just a week old, and already the San Francisco 49ers have improved their rushing defense.

Which is to say they're not rushing around the way they used to.

The difference is the NFL now allows one member of each defense to wear an in-helmet radio, allowing him to hear defensive signals from a coach and relay them to his 10 teammates on the field.

"It's less of us scrambling or being scared to change the play because we don't think everybody's going to get it," said linebacker Mark Roman, who wears the wired helmet for the 49ers. "Everybody gets the call and just rolls."

Although quarterbacks have worn the earpieces since 1994, this is the first year defensive players -- linebackers, usually -- have been able to do the same. As with the quarterback radios, those worn by defenders also cut off with 15 seconds left on the play clock. And as with offensive players, the defender who wears the radio has a small green dot on the back of his helmet.

The league has long considered allowing defensive players to wear the devices, but the measure didn't get the required 24 votes from teams until last spring. It's no coincidence that one of the sport's biggest controversies over the last year was the illegal videotaping of defensive hand signals by the New England Patriots.

"At the end of the day, they had to come through for the defensive guys after what happened up in New England," 49ers linebacker Takeo Spikes said. "So that made it easier for the conversation to go smoother during the rules change."

Patriots Coach Bill Belichick was lukewarm this summer on the notion of defensive players wearing the one-way radios. His reasoning was the Patriots have so many different defensive personnel groups, and are running players on and off the field so much, that it could be too much of a distraction to have to worry about who's wearing the special helmet.

Eventually, it seems, Belichick came around on the device. Because now linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel both bring two helmets to games, one with the radio and the other without. At any given time, one of those players is wired for sound.

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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