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  1. #1
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    Will refs really call rulebook this year?

    By Howard Balzer

    With the NFL exhibition schedule set to begin in less than two months, it will be interesting to see how strongly officials follow through with the intent to call illegal contact as it is written in the rulebook.
    The league's competition committee acknowledged that the game was seeing too much bumping and jersey grabbing beyond 5 yards. Within 5 yards, clutching an opponent's jersey is considered holding, but even that was being ignored.

    Naturally, offensive players support the decision, but they are also wary until seeing the implementation. Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez expressed the "I'll believe it when I see it" feeling.

    "That's why I can't get excited about it," Gonzalez said. "But, if they call it, that should mean more production for me this year. Let me put it this way: It would be a dream come true if they start calling more defensive holding beyond 5 yards."

    Gonzalez said the infractions were obvious in tape study. "We were showing some new guys our films of last year, and it was unbelievable how many times I got bumped or held 10, 12 yards down the field," he said. "Sometimes that would eliminate me from being in position to catch the ball."

    Because of his size, Gonzalez gets a double whammy often, being caught for offensive interference against smaller players when all he's trying to do is battle the clutches and grabs of his defenders.

    Referring to Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal, Gonzalez said, "I guess when you're 6-foot-5, 250 pounds and you push back against a smaller guy, they call the Shaq rule."

    The flip side, of course, is the defensive side, where players believe the offense has the advantage. They are probably right. The league wants offense and points, but most important, it wants rules on the books to be enforced.

    The Patriots have been unfairly singled out although many teams with capable defensive backs employ the same tactics. However, New England has been involved in the two most significant instances of receiver mugging, which occurred against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI and in last season's playoff win against the Colts.

    When coaches were discussing the change at the March league meeting, Patriots coach Bill Belichick wondered how his players would now be coached. A fellow coach simply stated they should be coached to follow the rules.

    This led to a reporter noting that Belichick was supposedly "irked" by the emphasis on the old rule. Saying he wasn't "irked," Belichick claimed his players are always coached to play by the rules. (No chuckling allowed.)

    "The way I understand the rule is, if you jam the player beyond 5 yards, it is illegal," Belichick said. "That is the way the rule has been. So, we have coached our players not to jam beyond 5 yards. If you jam the player within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage without grabbing him and pushing him in the face mask and all of that — if you legally jam him within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage — that is legal. It has been legal. We have expected to be able to do that defensively and we have expected to deal with it offensively. That is still the rule.

    "We are not coaching it any differently than we have coached it. Now, in the past, have we ever hit a guy at 6 (yards)? Yes, we probably have. In the past have we ever been jammed at 6? Yes, we have. Are they trying to tighten up the calling on that? I don't know. Maybe that is what it is going to be. But, we are not coaching it any differently.

    "Five yards is still 5 yards. Five yards within the line of scrimmage is legal, more than that is illegal. That is the way it has been. I don't know how to coach it any differently. I don't know what I could say. They haven't changed the rule so I don't know what this big interpretation is going to be, what is so different? I don't know. We have been trying to do it that way since the rule has been instituted, so I am confused."

    Uhh... Bill, now you have us confused.

    SMART MOVE: To believe that Brenda Warner's radio ramblings in St. Louis did not have an effect on her husband, quarterback Kurt Warner, would be naïve. But the problem became more than what she said; the issue was that Kurt refused to acknowledge or even address the incidents with teammates.

    It might be 2004, but the locker room has a certain culture about it, and that's where leadership can be gained or lost. And Kurt Warner lost some "in the room" as a result of the way he handled the situation.

    Now, the Warners are in New York, and it appears Brenda has been getting good advice, probably from agent Mark Bartelstein, who admitted he previously could have done a better job helping her deal with the media.

    At her husband's first New York news conference, she not only stood in the back of the room but also refused interview requests. Then came comments by Mike Thompson, the general manager of an all-sports radio station in New York, who said he wanted Brenda on his station.

    "We would love to give her an opportunity," Thompson said. "I've already sent some feelers out. She has already proven that she is sometimes more direct than many athletes, coaches or agents."

    Apparently, Thompson won't get his way. Warner's representatives told him that Brenda won't do any radio shows. Now, she also has to decide not to listen to any.

    OFF THE COUCH: Quarterback Tim Couch finally has his freedom and is headed to the Packers. The only question is, why?

    The Packers began talking with Couch in late March, when the Cleveland Browns first gave him permission to seek a trade. The Packers had the most interest in Couch all along, but a trade never could be worked out, largely because the Packers were unwilling to give up a draft pick if Couch only wanted a one-year deal.

    Now, the Packers and Couch reportedly have agreed to a one-year deal worth $1.25 million in salary and signing bonus money. But again, I ask, why? It's not a good fit on either side.

    The Packers have Doug Pederson as the nominal backup to Brett Favre, who never misses a game. Craig Nall is No. 3, but the Packers still need a fourth for training camp. Bringing in Couch for one year solves nothing because that most likely would mean the exit of Pederson or Nall once the season starts.

    Couch now has to adjust to a new team when training camp starts. He'd be better off going to a team where there's a chance of being around in 2005 and having a legitimate chance to play.

    Howard Balzer writes for Sports Weekly, email him at hbalzer@usatoday.com



  2. #2
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    Re: Will refs really call rulebook this year?

    will they call the rulebook? Did they last year....uh, no!

    Last year was the worst officiating I've seen in a long time in Rams and non-Rams games, just atrocious.
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  3. #3
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    Re: Will refs really call rulebook this year?

    It will be interesting to see if the league instructs the refs to follow through with calling the illegal tactics. Hard to say if Belichick's staff is actually coaching players in illegal tactics. That would be an interesting question to ask reporters who are allowed to attend pats practices. I would think that this type of coaching would be visible in camp and practices.

  4. #4
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    Re: Will refs really call rulebook this year?

    If they do, I'd give good odds on the Rams and Colts making the big game.

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