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NFL adopts new player-safety rules

Helmet-to-helmet hits and blindside blocks to the head are banned.

March 25, 2009|Sam Farmer

The relationship between quarterback Jay Cutler and the Denver Broncos might be bruised, but it isn't broken.

That was the message Coach Josh McDaniels was sending, at least, in the annual AFC breakfast with reporters Tuesday at the NFL meetings in Dana Point.

The relationship between Cutler and McDaniels has been strained since word surfaced that the Broncos were interested in quarterback Matt Cassel, then with New England. The Patriots wound up trading Cassel to Kansas City, and Cutler subsequently asked to be traded.

While not ruling out the possibility of a trade, McDaniels said he hoped and expected Cutler to be Denver's quarterback this season.

"We want him to be here," the coach said. "We're committed to him. I think it's got to be two ways. I think that is the biggest thing. If he wants to commit to us then I think there are some things he's going to have to get over personally. That's a challenge for him. It's a challenge in this whole situation, and I understand that."

McDaniels said he had heard of Cutler's trade request, but not from the player personally, and that no one "has contacted me, called me, text-messaged me or e-mailed me."

The coach was emphatic in saying he anticipates Cutler still being Denver's quarterback after the draft.

For the first several minutes of the group interview, almost all of which concerned the Cutler situation, McDaniels never mentioned Cutler by name. By the count of Boston Herald columnist Ron Borges, McDaniels referred to Cutler as "he" or "him" 33 times, "the player" six times, but never as Jay.

(It's worth noting that McDaniels is from the Bill Parcells school, and Parcells frequently uses "the player" if someone is injured or in the doghouse.)

At one point, in a bizarre exchange, Borges asked McDaniels why he hadn't mentioned Cutler by name and instead made him sound like "a piece of office machinery."

"I'll call him Jay Cutler if you want me to," McDaniels said. "I don't think that's the issue. If that's the issue, then obviously we have a long way to go."

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Player safety rules

NFL owners put their heads together in hopes of keeping their players from doing the same. The league adopted four rules changes Tuesday in the name of player safety, two of which deal directly with helmet-to-helmet hits.

In what Commissioner Roger Goodell called "very good changes," the league banned helmet-to-helmet hits on defenseless receivers -- those catching or attempting to catch passes -- and on blind-side blocks.

Also banned were so-called bunch formations on an onside kick. Now at least four players must line up on either side of the kicker and outside the hash marks. And for return teams, blocking wedges of more than two players have been outlawed.

"When we're reading the injuries that say 'vertebrae' and 'spinal' and 'concussion,' you've got to try something," said Mike Pereira, NFL director of officiating.

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Official statistics

By the league's count, NFL officials were correct on 98.1% of their calls last season, down slightly from their 98.3% rate a year earlier. While that might sound good, Pereira said it's not good enough -- not with very public mistakes such as those in the Denver-San Diego game (Cutler's fumble non-call) and Pittsburgh-San Diego (Troy Polamalu's recalled touchdown).

"Did I think it was bad last year? No," Pereira said. "What we really had were train wrecks, and train wrecks hurt you. . . . In this business, you've got to avoid the train wrecks, and we didn't."

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Foreign exchange

The meetings opened Sunday with a speech from Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state and a devoted NFL fan.

Among the many subjects she discussed were the "long arc" of history -- how decisions made now might be viewed far differently with the perspective of time -- and how she studied Russian at Stanford.

It just so happens that Amy Trask, chief executive of the Raiders, studied Russian in college, and used it when saying hello to Rice afterward.

"She was ever so slightly surprised when I spoke Russian to her at first," Trask said. "But she only paused a second before answering me back [in Russian]."

Call it glasnost to the post.

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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