Most NFL fans have been eager to debate the perpetually-changing catch rule, as well as the new personal foul call that will be assessed to players who initiate contact with their helmet.
But a different rule discussed in Thursday’s meeting between league officials and reporters generated the most attention.
Longtime referee Pete Morelli said that Anthony Barr’s hit that broke Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone last season would be a penalty moving forward based upon a new area of emphasis.
The rule was briefly explained in a video put together by the NFL that was shown to reporters and will also be shown to the Vikings Thursday night.
“To further protect quarterbacks, when tackling a passer who is in a defenseless posture, the defender may not land on top of him with all or most of his body weight.”
When asked specifically about Barr’s hit from Week 6 last season, Morelli responded:
“[It is a penalty] anytime a quarterback’s in a defenseless position — that’s just after throwing a pass — so that could increase [flags]. You’ll see more tackles where players will have to kind of roll to the side when they make that tackle instead of plopping down on him. Aaron Rodgers would be a foul this year as long as he’s out of the pocket, established, all that, but if he’s running then that’s not the same.”
Pressed later on for further clarification, Morelli said the penalty applies to passers in and out of the pocket.
“You roll out and get set up, you’re still a passer, but if you’re rolling out and throwing and the guy’s chasing you and tackles you, then you’re not defenseless,” he explained. “[Defenders] get two steps and they can tackle you. Becoming defenseless is setting up again — pocket outside the pocket.”
On the play in question, Rodgers appeared to be throwing on a rollout, while Barr seemed to abide by the two-step rule and quickly rolled off Rodgers.
The contradiction between Morelli’s explanation and the video replay would indicate one of two things: 1) Either Morelli wasn’t fully prepared to address this particular play, or 2) Quarterbacks are going to be even more closely protected than before.
UPDATE: Barr responded after Thursday’s practice, saying, “Just got to play by the rules at all times. Did that last year, and I’ll continue to do that as the year goes on.”
When pressed about the rule changes in general, Barr said he anticipated an adjustment period. “You’re playing fast, trying to make a play on the ball, and it’s going to be tough. It’ll be interesting to see how it’s officiating and how it’s called this year. I’m sure there’s going to be some debate from the players, from the coaches, from the officials, who’s right, who’s wrong.”