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Failure not to launch can cost teams; Bull session

Posted May 24, 2011

Updated: 8:30 p.m.

INDIANAPOLIS — After making strides to clean up the game off the field, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's Law and Order tenure continued Tuesday when the league announced a similar system to fine teams that are repeatedly flagged for hits imperiling safety.

NFL vice president Alolpho Birch, senior vice president of law and labor policy, called it "club accountability," much like the fine schedule for teams that have multi arrests and that Goodell wants it underway for the 2011 season.

"We want to encourage clubs and coaches to teach the proper technique and to correct dangerous play on the field," Birch told a news conference here during an NFL owners meeting. "We're still working out the details, but the basic point is to check the number of fines and level of fines going out for infractions that relate to various safety violations. Whether it be spearing or late hits or things particularly related to head and helmet issues, and try to monitor those over the course of the year. And as a club's total gets to a certain threshold, then we will enforce some penalty and payback for those clubs to help encourage them to stay below that threshold."

Bengals president Mike Brown endorsed the move in the name of safety.

"We don’t want players breaking rules. We don’t want them breaking societal rules or rules on the field," Brown said. "The league is of the opinion that a fine system will make teams more conscious of this. If that is what the league decides to do, we’re prepared to go that way and support the league’s option.”

Birch said which penalties and the cost of the team fines are still under consideration, but they've done enough planning to say that three or four teams would have been fined in 2010. He wouldn't comment on the Steelers, but they're the team most associated with the league's emphasis on cutting down on violent hits.

Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison was hit with a total of $100,000 in fines last season stemming from unnecessary hits and Steelers boss Art Rooney II acknowledged Tuesday that the new policy could have an impact. The Bengals had two players fined in 2010 for hitting quarterbacks, defensive tackle Pat Sims' $5,000 roughing on Carolina's Jimmy Clausen on Sept. 26 and middle linebacker Dhani Jones' $15,000 helmet-to-helmet hit on Cleveland's Colt McCoy on Dec. 19.

Safety Chinedum Ndukwe had a huge unnecessary roughness hit called on him in the third week of the season in Cleveland when he broke up a pass. The flag resulted in an end-of-half field goal in the Browns 23-20 win. Ndukwe won his appeal of the fine.

Birch's announcement came on the same day the owners unanimously approved another major piece of legislation designed to protect players when they outlawed defenders launching to tackle ball carriers and receivers while outlining eight ways a player is considered defenseless. They also clarified illegal hits to the head of the quarterback.

Players can no longer spring forward and upward into an opponent or use any part of the helmet to initiate forcible contact against any part of the body. The 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty can also come with an ejection from the game if deemed flagrant enough.

"This will permanently change the mentality of the defensive back trying separate the ball," said NFL competition committee chairman Rich McKay. "You have to lower your import and that import has to be at the numbers or below as opposed to above because you have to give that receiver time to defend himself."

Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is waiting to see the rule in print.

"I know we'll coach the heck out of it," he said. "We'll adjust."

McKay said the committee also firmed up the wording of hits to the head of the quarterback.

"We came down to a standard of movement that if the quarterback's head moves from a blow by a defensive player, it’s a penalty," McKay said. "There were a number of plays on video that I don't think any of us were comfortable that they could be fouls. So we inserted the word 'forcible.' The contact to the quarterback's head has to be forcible. We had that in the rulebook already … we're putting it on the referee, but we think we've got good enough video so the referee knows what we want called."

Zimmer and his assistants began the process in the middle of last season, when the league first came down on dangerous hits as well as launching. Secondary coach Kevin Coyle is helping his guys by putting together a tape of various hits, some of which are illegal, some borderline and some legal.

"Like we said last year," Coyle said, "the key is focusing on tackling fundamentals. Driving the legs, running all the way through the tackle, putting the helmet to the side and making sure you wrap the arms. And you also can get to a point where you anticipate what's next."

Brown, who has been in the NFL for more than 50 years, has seen enough.

"I think that good things were done. I really do," Brown said of the changes. "I’ve been here for a lot of years watching guys get shaleighleid for nothing. You didn’t see that kind of thing. It didn’t make sense for me that guys were getting away with it and too much of it crept into the game. Guys were getting hurt. This will address that and I think it will help us cut back on needless injury.

"To play football you can play rough and tough and you don’t have to hit someone in the head and knock them out.”

BROWN ON OCHO: Brown likes Chad Ochocinco.

He likes him well enough as a football player that he didn't buckle to pressure and trade him three years ago when everybody wanted him gone. He likes The Ocho's upbeat personality. He even admits to finding The Ocho's off-field pursuits "amusing." But Brown also admitted Tuesday here at the NFL owners meetings that there is a debate about his all-time leading receiver's football focus.

Especially after his attempt at riding a bull a few weeks ago on top of a pro soccer league tryout.

"Next maybe he'll be a snake wrangler and we can all watch to see if he gets bit or something," Brown said. "I don't know. He's always up to some stunt. They amuse me in a way and yet they concern me because, let's face it, as we look at it we want a football player. We aren't looking for a bull rider or a dancer, or a soccer player. We want a football player. It's simple. That's where we want the focus. Not on other things."

Asked if Ochocinco could still be a football player for him, Brown said, "If he chose to be, there's no question. The issue is does he at this stage of his life have that focus."

Quotes attributed to The Ocho and head coach Marvin Lewis all point to Ochocinco's departure before this season. Brown wouldn't discuss Ochocinco's status because the lockout has "frozen" transactions.

"He has a genius for bringing notice to himself and I don't say that in a disparaging way," Brown said. "It's unique. I've never known any football player that can bring the spotlight on to himself seemingly all year round. Now is that a good thing or a bad thing? And that gets to be a debate."

It sounds like the Bengals are looking at all the sides.

 

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