This week we'll be detailing the rule changes for the 2010 NFL season. The first in the series, which dealt with moving the umpire, can be found here.
Today's rule involves the ban on hitting defenseless players. In recent years the NFL has done more and more to prevent these hits first prohibiting hits on defenseless WRs, then certain blocks on defenders and now they're just banning hits on defenseless players altogether. An illegal hit on a defenseless player is when the initial force of contact by a players head, shoulder, or forearm is to the head or neck area.
A "defenseless player" will be defined as a QB in the act of passing, A WR in the act of making a catch, a kick or punt returner in the act of making a catch, a runner who is in the grass or whose forward progress has been stopped, a player on the ground at the end of the play, a QB after a change of possession, and a kicker or punter after the ball is kicked. Violations will result in a 15 yard unnecessary roughness penalty.
If a WR has made a catch, but has not had time to defend himself a defender can not launch himself into the WR with his his helmet, shoulder, or forearm in a way that strikes the WR's head or neck area. "Launching" means leaving the ground to make the hit. If the defender doesn't "launch" himself or the WR had time to defend himself then it is not a penalty. Walt Coleman talks about the new regulations, but after the jump there's one more rule to protect defenseless players.
The last defenseless player that is protected is the snapper on FG or extra point attempts. Because he has his head down, he is vulnerable when snapping the ball. Last season a defender had to line up with his shoulder pads on the outside of the snappers body, but there were instances where the snapper was still hit in a vulnerable position. This year, the defender must line up with his entire body on the outside of the snapper's body. If not, they'll be flagged for a 5 yard illegal formation penalty.