New Rules: Speaker Helmets, Force-Outs, Hochuli

The schlubs just got out of our annual meeting with the NFL officials, where they browbeat us, intimidate us and promise to send Ed Hochuli to our homes with brass knuckles (as he'd need them) if we lash out at the officials on our blogs too much. (Okay, none of that is true. It's actually a really cool, informative thing the league does at training camp to keep idiots like me from looking too dumb in regard to rule changes. Related tangent: If you type "NFL ref ripped" into the Google machine the first thing it brings up is a story on Ed Hochuli.).

The focus ended up being about the new rule whereby one person on defense can now wear a helmet with a speaker in it on the field. I've been getting a bunch of emails on this and was waiting to talk to the refs to make sure I understood how it works. Each team has two helmets, and only two helmets, that are able to communicate with the defensive coaches on the sidelines (on offense, obviously, the QB is the guy with the speaker on that side of the ball).

In the case of the Redskins, and I suspect just about every other team, the defensive player to get that special helmet will be the starting middle linebacker (on in a 3-4, one of the middle LBs). So, for the Redskins, London Fletcher, who was already in essence the QB of the defense, will start the game and wear the special helmet. The other helmet will sit on the sidelines, in a box, where it will be guarded and monitored by a league sideline official. Seriously. Not making this up.

At no point can two players on the same team be on the field with speaker helmets. Any time someone enters the game with a speaker helmet he must first check in with the referee. You will get a penalty for failing to check in, or for trying to sneak two speakerbox helmets onto the field at once.

So, obviously, we've got some issues here.

Luckily for the Skins, London Fletcher has, like, never missed a play or practice in his entire career. But should injury strike, that second player must already be designated (assuming you actually want the speaker helmet to fit his head). H.B. Blades is now the backup MLB, and I'll find out later today if the Skins have made him the player to get the second speaker helmet). And, if both of those players get hurt, you might have a problem.

Everyone wants a perfectly fitted helmet, especially when concussions are such a big issue in the NFL and other sports. I asked NFL ref Jeff Triplett if teams could end up out of luck if they've got a wide discrepancy in head sizes going on with the guys they want to wear the helmet (assuming one or more get hurt), and he pretty much said, yeah: "It's a coaching issue to figure that out." Once we figure out who the Skins' second helmet wearer would be - and then the emergency third guy - I'll try to get them to give me their head sizes.

In reality, this is all a stretch and, heck, defenses have been doing okay for years without anything other than signals and hand signs from the sides - sans speakers - so it's no big thing. But it's one of the byproducts of Spygate.

Triplett said from an officiating standpoing, the end of the force-out rule is "a huge change." Now, a player must stay in bounds making a catch in almost every instance. Unless the pass catcher is held and carries out of bounds, he'd better get some body parts down in bounds or the pass will be called incomplete.

A few Redskins made the highlights of the penalty tape put together by the league and shown to every team. Chris Samuels shows up delivering a chop block against the Bears, and LaRon Landry - who got a rep for aiming high and using his helmet as a weapon in his rookie season - was shown going helmet-to-helmet against the Jets.

I asked Triplett if the officials pick up on that stuff quickly, noticing if certain players are prone to certain fouls. He said absolutely not. "I don't know of any referee that follows the fines," he said. Unless the league office gave them a directive about looking out for a certain infraction, Triplett said it doesn't come up among officials and is not the kind of thing they talk about as they are preparing for a game.

By Jason La Canfora  |  July 25, 2008; 1:55 PM ET
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