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Illegal Contact Enforcement Is a Big Hit

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 28, 2005; Page D03

INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 27 -- NFL defensive backs won't be getting any help next season from the league's rule-makers.

Atlanta Falcons General Manager Rich McKay, co-chairman of the league's competition committee, said Sunday that NFL teams were pleased with the results of last year's directive by the committee for game officials to crack down on clutching-and-grabbing tactics by defenders, and officials will be instructed to enforce the rule the same way next season.

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"We didn't change the rule," McKay said. "We said it should be strictly enforced. It was. Our surveys told us that teams were vastly in favor of the way it was enforced this year. . . . It will again be emphasized. It won't in any way be de-emphasized."

Competition committee members wanted to open up the passing game league-wide, and resolved last offseason that officials should strictly enforce the rule prohibiting a defender from impeding a receiver more than five yards downfield. The result was a passing-friendly 2004 season in which Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning broke Dan Marino's 20-year-old, single-season NFL record for touchdown passes. There was a sharp increase in the number of defensive illegal-contact penalties, and passing statistics were up league-wide.

McKay said that the competition committee also will spend the offseason studying possible remedies to this past season's increase in player injuries.

"There's no question that this year injuries were up. . . ." McKay said. "If this shows up again next year, you have to take a look at it. . . . We have to figure out if it's a one-year anomaly."

The league's medical advisers aren't certain yet why injuries were up, McKay said, adding that the committee will study issues relating to equipment, training methods and rules. NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw said during Super Bowl week that the amount of time that teams have their players participate in offseason workouts should be reduced as a means of trying to curb injuries.

Upshaw also has expressed support for toughening the rules relating to below-the-waist blocks on defenders by offensive players under certain circumstances, and McKay said the issue will be examined this offseason. "Low blocks is something that clearly will be talked about," McKay said.

Around the League

The Oakland Raiders are in a salary-cap bind and are attempting to trade cornerback Charles Woodson, who surprised the team Friday by signing the club's franchise-player contract tender of just more than $10.5 million. . . . The Detroit Lions began their pursuit of free agent quarterback Jeff Garcia, the former Pro Bowler who was released by Cleveland. . . . The Tampa Bay Buccaneers agreed to a new deal with quarterback Brian Griese. The team probably would have released Griese if it had been unable to rework his contract. . . .

Former USC wide receiver Mike Williams hadn't planned to participate in the workouts at the NFL scouting combine, but changed his mind and did so here Sunday. He was timed, unofficially, at 4.59 and 4.61 seconds in his 40-yard dashes. . . . Hampton wideout and kick returner Jerome Mathis was timed, by one observer's stopwatch, at 4.25 seconds in his 40-yard dash Sunday, unofficially breaking Deion Sanders's all-time combine record of 4.28. Mathis's official time, by electronic clocking device, was 4.32 seconds. Mathis was a track all-American at Hampton.

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