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Owners unanimous in passing changes to three rules

INDIANAPOLIS -- NFL owners passed three changes/adjustments to rules relating to player safety Tuesday morning at their spring meeting, each by a unanimous 32-0 vote.

The first change expands the definition of "defenseless player" in the "unnecessary contact" rules. Added are the receiver who "has not clearly become a runner," a kicker or punter during a return, a quarterback following a change of possession, as well as a player who takes a blindside block from an opponent "moving toward his own endline" and approaches from the back or side.

"It used to say he was somebody who had not completed the act of the catch," Rich McKay, competition committee co-chairman and president of the Atlanta Falcons, told The Associated Press on Monday. "Now it will give a receiver protection until he becomes a runner and has the opportunity to defend himself.

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"We saw too many helmet-to-helmet or shoulder-to-helmet hits where the receiver has just caught the ball and has two feet on the ground and has not had a chance to protect himself."

The hope also is to lower the target area of the tackler against such receivers.

The second change make the league's "launching" rules more comprehensive, to include players who leave both "prior to contact to spring forward and upward," and a player who "uses any part of his helmet."

The third change is more of an adjustment to rules prohibiting blows to the head of quarterbacks, making accidental "grazing" a judgment call for officials, rather than an automatic foul.

In March, the owners made several changes to kicking rules. They moved kickoffs up 5 yards to the 35-yard line, kept touchbacks coming out to the 20 rather than the 25, allowed the number of players in a blocking wedge to remain at two and limited kick-coverage players to lining up 5 yards or fewer from the spot of the kickoff.

They also voted to make all scoring plays reviewable by the replay official and referee.

Implementing many of these alterations could become problematic with a shortened training camp and, perhaps, canceled preseason games. But McKay said Monday that he wasn't worried.

"They are big changes, but we will put player safety first and foremost regardless of the circumstances," he said. "Our special teams coaches are pretty good at adapting to rules changes even if they have less practice with them than in other years."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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