Changes on illegal tackles irk Steelers

"I'm not sure I like it being referred to as The Steelers Rule." -- Art Rooney II


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Another NFL rule, another named in honor of the Steelers, although the team president does not embrace the reference.

For a team associated with the Rooney Rule, the Hines Ward Rule and rules aimed at neutering the 1970s Steel Curtain, add one that some members of the media have dubbed "The Steelers Rule."

The rule, which really is not yet a rule, includes possible fines and the docking of draft choices if a team's players ring up enough infractions. And it was coupled with actual new rules passed by the league owners Tuesday that widened the description of illegal tackles the Steelers so loudly fought against last season.

"I'm not sure I like it being referred to as The Steelers Rule," Art Rooney II said Wednesday. "It's a policy the commissioner is still considering and has not put into effect yet but he intends to put it into effect."

Rooney raised concerns last fall that the NFL might go too far when it started its crackdown with fines and threatened suspensions in October. He took a conservative approach to the latest move for punishing teams.

"I would hope it's something used on rare occasions and only in exceptional situations. I think our rules are adequate and I think everyone is trying to adjust here."

Steelers All-Pro linebacker James Harrison, who led the NFL with $100,000 in fines last season, did not take kindly to the new rules that will expand the description of an illegal hit and of a defenseless player.

"I'm absolutely sure now after this latest rule change that the people making the rules at the NFL are idiots," Harrison wrote Tuesday night on Twitter.

The rules passed by a 32-0 vote of the owners, which means, by association, Rooney was included in Harrison's assessment of those who passed the rules.

"Look, he's entitled to express his opinion," Rooney said. "I probably would have preferred him to use a little different description to his disagreement. There's not much I can say about it; it's not like I can even call him up and talk to him."

The NFL forbids management to speak to players about anything regarding football during the lockout.

Rooney applauds the attempt to make the game safer, but believes it makes it tougher to officiate.

"I think the intent is good, they're trying to address player safety. We still have some concern about how it will be officiated and, not so much taking a shot at the officials, I think they'll do as good a job as they can, but it's a very fine line asking the officials to call that. We'll see how it plays out."

The changes include a widening description of "launching" and preventing high blows to a receiver before he can get two feet on the ground after making a catch and getting into a position to protect himself.

"I think it's a fairly significant change," Rooney said of the receiver rule. "It was one of the reasons that it got tabled at our March meeting because a lot of coaches were concerned about it."

Several defensive teammates had more measured responses than Harrison's to the changes, but their message was similar: It's not easy playing defense these days.

Fellow linebacker LaMarr Woodley followed with his own Twitter comment that "im not sorry we hit 2 hard."

"Their intent is to make the league more safe," nose tackle Chris Hoke said Wednesday. "But the bottom line on the football field is guys who weigh 350 pounds are flying at full speed trying to block you and you're trying to keep Joshua Cribbs from getting a first down and you dive at him. It's hard. Games can be won or lost on that."

"I don't like it," linebacker Larry Foote said. "If you start messing with it, you play with fire. They need to be careful with refs throwing the flag. I'm all for protecting guys who are defenseless, but as long as your head is up, everything should be fair. See what you hit, head up, that's what I was always taught."

Safety Ryan Clark did not see much in the rules changes that will affect how defenders play.

"It's not a big change for us, it's a change for the organization," he said. "I don't really know how it affects us. It's just another way to seem like we're trying to do something to protect the players. I just don't see how effective they'll be.

"The only thing that is new is the organization can be fined for multiple fines or infractions by one particular team. Some of the rules were put into affect during the season; maybe it's them just making these things official."

However, Foote worries it will make defensive players paranoid about hitting and tackling to the point that it could change the way the game is played, and tamper with its appeal to fans.

"We all signed up for this, we know the risks," Foote said. "That's what makes the game great. I'm all for cleaning it up but you have to be careful with flags."

Foote believes it would be better to fine a player later than throw a flag on a play that looks as if it was an illegal hit but later determined it was not. That happened to Clark last season when the Steelers were penalized 15 yards for his Dec. 19 hit on New York Jets receiver Braylon Edwards. The league looked at it and decided not to fine Clark, in essence declaring the hit to be legal.

The crackdown last season affected how players approached some hits, including Harrison, Foote said.

"I remember me and Harrison talked about it after the Miami game. There was a running back going across the middle. I saw James ease up and I made the tackle real funny thinking that Harrison was going to clean him up."

Foote predicted there will be many more missed tackles because of the new rules. Hoke believes players will adjust.

"You can," Hoke said. "It'll take time to get a feel for what they're calling -- in the preseason there will be some calls. You still have to play hard, fly around and play Steelers defense, but at the end of the day, things that are obvious like launching, you can't do that. You have to just run through them I guess."

One rule change defenders actually will like removes the penalty for a defender inadvertently brushing a quarterback's helmet with his hand.

"One time somebody swiped his hand on Peyton Manning's helmet and got a 15-yarder," Rooney said. "They added the word 'forcibly' to that rule. It takes away that kind of thing, if somebody's hand grazes a helmet. It was an improvement and a clarification."


For more on the Steelers, read the blog Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and on Twitter @EdBouchette.


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