A group of NFL officials visited Redskins Park yesterday to brief players and coaches on rule changes and points of emphasis for the 2005 season. Last season, renewed enforcement of illegal contact and defensive holding dominated preseason officiating discussions. Those penalties again will be enforced vigilantly this season. The other changes deal with more limited play situations.
A crackdown on illegal motion, a penalty the Redskins believed was incorrectly enforced against them at critical junctures of the 2004 season, is on tap with officials watching closely to make sure players are not in motion toward the line of scrimmage. Interaction between teams during pregame warmups will be closely analyzed, a point made repeatedly during the league's video presentation to players. Unnecessary roughness is another area of concern, and kickers will be protected more like quarterbacks this season. Crackback blocks by offensive linemen will result in a 15-yard penalty. Tackling a player outside the box or pocket by the shoulder pads -- the kind of tackle that almost ended the season of Philadelphia receiver Terrell Owens last year -- also will result in a 15-yard penalty.
Coaches who throw their flag indicating an instant replay challenge when they have used their total allotment will be penalized 15 yards -- in the past they generally received warnings -- and an attempt to pressure a kicker by calling an excess timeout prior to a field goal try will result in a loss of 15 yards from the previous or succeeding spot. Also, if a dead ball foul is called on the defense following the end of the second or fourth quarter, the offensive team may chose to extend the period for one untimed down.
Gibbs said the staff is not focusing on any of the rule changes in particular, but cutting down on penalties -- Washington was among the league leaders with 1,047 penalty yards -- is paramount.
"For us it's not as much one thing, one emphasis thing," Gibbs said. "It's going to be everything for us. We just need to do a better job of that. Last year we weren't smart from a penalty standpoint."
Injury List Not Too Daunting
Running back Clinton Portis returned to practice after missing one session with swelling in his knee, and wide receiver Taylor Jacobs was back as well after being out for a few days with the flu. Cornerback Walt Harris, who also missed the last two days of practice with a strain in his right quadriceps, said he was feeling better and he expects to be able to participate in at least a few drills today.
The bulk of Washington's injuries occurred either before or at the start of camp. Three key defensive players -- linebacker LaVar Arrington, lineman Brandon Noble and cornerback Carlos Rogers -- remain on the physically unable to perform list. Defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin (shoulder strain) also missed practice again, but the injury is not said to be severe.
Gibbs has devised a camp schedule designed to maximize recovery time. The Redskins do not hold two-a-day sessions on consecutive days or morning practices after an evening practice, and the team will have a single practice session this morning, participate in a two-hour scrimmage against the Ravens in Baltimore tomorrow and have Sunday off.
It is unlikely that Arrington, Noble or Rogers -- whose injuries concern the team most -- will take part in drills until next week at the earliest. A set timetable on a preseason return for any of them is unlikely to come until next week at the earliest as well. Arrington, who missed almost all of 2004 because of knee problems, is the injured player Gibbs gets asked about most frequently, but there are no firm answers yet.
The trainers "will probably give us a better idea" of a return date, Gibbs said, "but I think mostly what it is now is just getting into good shape, and there's more to it than just running."
Gibbs has maintained that Arrington, Noble and Rogers should be ready for the start of the regular season. . . .
The Redskins will not replace Larry Hill, an official who helped the team with replay challenges last season, and those duties will now be handled by coaches sitting in the press box, Gibbs said.