By Bill Bradley, contributing editor
The biggest player safety rule change out of this week's NFL Annual Meeting will be greater enforcement of sportsmanship guidelines already in the books.
NFL Competition Committee member Jeff Fisher said during the meeting's concluding news conference Wednesday that his group will encourage referees to call more unsportsmanlike conduct penalties after the league saw an increase from "nine and 12 to 34 last year."
"We had some very, very productive and lengthy discussions with respect to sportsmanship," the St. Louis Rams coach said to the media gathered in Orlando, Fla. "We looked at a lot of tape. After talking and consulting to a lot of different entities -- the coaches subcommittee, the Players Association -- we agreed we have an issue on the field and we agreed that we are going to get in under control as soon as we possibly can."
Fisher said the Competition Committee will work with NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino to create videos to show teams and players what type of conduct will not be allowed.
"We are going to effect change immediately. That change will be effected as the (offseason training activities) begin when the players come back. We've got to change our conduct on the field. We have to bring the element of respect to its highest level back to our game."
Fisher said the "in-your-face taunting" and insulting language on the field are the types of conduct on which the NFL will crack down.
"It's all in the (rule) book," he said. "It's all under 'unsportsmanlike conduct.' There's no change in our rule. We're going to enforce the current rule.
"The penalties there, but we also felt like we missed some penalties. The instances on the field have increased as well. We may not have flagged them all. ... Dean's guys are going to definitely raise the standard."
In terms of player safety proposals this week, Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay said most were tabled or failed.
However, the owners passed a rule that keeps the play clock moving after a quarterback. Previously, the clock stopped after a sack, but the change will bring consistency in clock management for referees. They can still stop the clock immediately if a quarterback is injured on the play.
On Tuesday, the owners passed the expansion of the clipping penalty, making it illegal for defenders to be blocked on the sides of their legs as well as the backs of their legs.
Of the other proposals on player safety rules and bylaws:
- Moving the kickoff line to the kicking team's 40-yard line to cut down on injuries during special-teams play failed.
- Eliminating overtime periods from preseason games to take away possible excessive opportunities for injuries was tabled.
- Increasing the number of players on the active roster for each game from 46 to 49, as well as allowing for more substitutions and greater flexibility for player safety -- especially on Thursday night games when players have had four days to heal from Sunday's games -- was tabled.
- Increasing the number of players on the practice squad from eight to 10, allowing for greater flexibility for rosters and adding a player safety buffer, was tabled.
- Eliminating the cutdown day to 75 players that normally occurs after the third preseason game, creating only one mandatory cutdown day to 53 after the final preseason game, was defeated.
- Allowing teams to pull any player off the injured reserve list after six weeks failed.
In terms of rule proposals that passed, the biggest one announced Wednesday was the decision to extend the goal posts from 30 to 35 feet. Also, McKay said the NFL will experiment during the first two weeks of preseason with placing the extra-point attempts at the 20-yard line rather than the 2-yard line.