RICHMOND — The NFL, making good on its pledge to make changes to the Pro Bowl in a bid to boost fan interest in the all-star exhibition game, announced Wednesday that it is scrapping the game’s traditional AFC vs. NFC format in favor of having players drafted on to two teams.
The league also announced a variety of rule changes for the Pro Bowl, including the elimination of kickoffs in the game.
“We were very receptive to the ideas that Domonique [Foxworth, the president of the NFL Players Association] and the players put forth,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a written statement. “From there, our office worked closely with him in developing the concept. The players made it clear that they wanted to continue the Pro Bowl and were committed to making it better than ever. We think these changes will enhance the game for both fans and players.”
Goodell previously had threatened to eliminate the Pro Bowl if the league and players’ union could not find ways to make the game more competitive and attractive to fans. But Goodell backed off that threat and called the level of play at last season’s game improved.
According to the league’s announcement, the players to participate in the game will be selected by fans, coaches and players without regard to conference affiliation. All of the quarterbacks in the game, for instance, could come from the same conference.
The players will be divided into two teams for the Pro Bowl through a draft. Two players who are among the leading vote-getters for the game will serve as captains, along with two fans and honorary captains Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders, according to the NFL’s announcement. Pro Bowl rosters will consist of 43 players per team, with the return specialist for each team now being replaced by an extra defensive back.
The draft will be carried Jan. 22 by the league-owned NFL Network. The game is scheduled for Jan. 26 in Honolulu.
“As players, we wanted to keep the Pro Bowl to honor excellence in individual performance and connect with the fans in a different environment,” Foxworth said in a written statement. “To do that, I worked with a group of players to map out new ideas.”
Instead of kickoffs, the ball will be placed at the 25-yard line after scoring plays and at the beginning of each quarter. There will be two-minute warnings added to the end of the first and third quarters, in addition to those at the end of the second and fourth quarters, and the ball will be given to the opposite team to start each quarter.
Defenses will be allowed to play “Cover 2” and “press” coverages in the secondary, instead of being limited to man-to-man pass defense. In the final two minutes of each quarter, the clock will be stopped after each play on which the offense does not gain at least a yard, discouraging kneel-downs. The clock will re-start after an incomplete pass except in the final two minutes of the first half and the final five minutes of the second half. The clock will remain running on sacks other than in the final two minutes of the game, and the play clock will be shortened from 40 seconds to 35 seconds.
Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at email@example.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag.
● Today’s second practice is just underway, starting at 3:20 p.m. If you’re in Richmond, check our our guide to training camp for tips on getting autographs, where to park and things to do after the session is over.
● Reactions from the afternoon practice, and Mike Jones’s observations later in the evening.
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