The officials made their annual training camp trip to Foxborough and filled the media in on the various rules changes and points of emphasis that will be in play this season. While there aren't any major changes in store there will be some areas that are likely to create some discussion.
Back judge Billy Smithhandled the instructional portion of the presentation and took questions following a brief video detailing the alterations. He was joined by head linesmenTony Veteriand Phil McKinnelyand field judge Jim Howey.
The most interesting development will be the change of positioning for the umpire, who will move from the middle of defense behind the linebackers to the offensive backfield opposite the referee. The only change to this will be on field goals and extra points, and, interestingly, the last two minutes of each half.
Smith explained how coaches believe this will change the game a bit as it will be more difficult for the officials to spot the ball quickly. This will come into play specifically when teams such as the Patriots and Colts use their hurry-up attacks. Smith explained that the umpire will now be 15 yards behind the line and therefore further away from the ball at the completion of a play.
"Let's say an umpire is 7 yards back on the defensive side, and you have a play for no gain, he walks up 7 yards, spots the ball and backs out," Smith said. "But now, he has to come in 15, spot it, and then back out 15."
The most noteworthy rule change actually won't come into play until the postseason, assuming a playoff games heads into overtime. The much talked about change to the overtime rules will go into effect in the postseason with both teams being allowed to possess the ball once unless the first team scores a touchdown on the opening possession.
The officials explained that a possession includes any opportunity for a team to receive a kick. For example, if the receiving team loses a fumble during the return or if the kicking team successfully executes and onside kick, that is considered a possession and the game can therefore be won with a field goal. Otherwise, teams will have the chance to match a field goal after the opening possession.
The officials detailed some slight changes to the defenseless receiver unnecessary roughness calls. All players now fall under the same category if they're in a defenseless situation. Quarterbacks in the act of throwing, kickers and punters after the ball has been kicked and defenseless players after a change of possession all would qualify. Players are prohibited from using their helmet or shoulder to create contact to the head or neck area and from lunging off their feet forward or upward. All such infractions will result in unnecessary roughness penalties. Penalties will also called on such hits that take place from the blindside, such as a blocker coming from the opposite side of a defender.
Other changes include:
*Long snappers will receive additional protection as defenders within a yard of the line of scrimmage will now be required to line up with their entire body outside the snapper's shoulder. The penalty for this will be 5 yards for illegal formation.
*Interference against an opponent to catch a muffed punt will no longer be a penalty. Instead, the receiving team will simply maintain possession of the ball at the spot of the attempted fair catch.
*There will no longer be an extension of the half or game on dead ball personal fouls. Now those infractions – against the offense or defense – will be enforced at the start of the second half or overtime.
*If a player loses his helmet the blown will be blown dead immediately.
*Exaggerated gestures toward officials will be watched closely in 2010. Smith said no penalties will be called for these complaints but "the data will be compiled" as the competition committee looks to eliminate poor sportsmanship from the game.
The officials will take part in practice this afternoon and for the next two days before another crew comes to town for Thursday's preseason opener against New Orleans.
Two for two
The Patriots made a pair on minor transactions Monday, releasing wide receiver Buddy Farnhamand defensive lineman Adrian Gradywhile signing cornerback DeAngelo Willinghamand offensive linemanDarnell Stapleton.
Stapleton spent three years with the Steelers (2007-09) but missed all of 2009 on injured reserve with a knee injury. He was scheduled to become a restricted free agent this offseason but Pittsburgh did not tender him an offer and thus he became an unrestricted free agent. Stapleton started 12 games in 2008 after replacing injured guard and former Patriot Kendall Simmons. He has experience at both guard and center, an area of concern for the Patriots given Nick Kaczur's current back problems.
Willingham spent two weeks (Sept. 7-21) on the Patriots practice squad last season. He will provide depth in secondary during camp as Leigh BoddenandTerrence Johnsonhave missed time due to injury in recent days.
Good news on the injury front on Monday as Mike Wrightreturned to action after missing several days of practice. He joined Vince Wilforkand Gerard Warrenalong the defensive front during the team periods of the workout.
On the downside, Matthew Slater, Bodden, Bret Lockett, Johnson, Gary Guyton, Kaczur, Torry Holt, Ty Warren and Ron Braceall continue to be out of pads. Bodden said after the morning walkthrough that he didn't believe his injury was anything to be concerned with. He wore a sleeve over his left knee.
With the officials on hand at practice there were plenty of yellow flags tossed around, particularly in the secondary. During a one-on-one drill pitting defensive backs against receivers, Terrence Wheatleygot a bit too aggressive withBrandon Tate, causing back judge Billy Smithto flag him for holding in the end zone.
The receivers dominated that drill with Darius Butlerstanding out as one of the only DBs who turned in a competitive performance. To be fair, it's a drill that's weighted heavily in the receivers' favor with no interference to fight through and the quarterbacks having no rush to deal with. Rookie Sergio Brownalso gave a credible performance, particularly when matched against the quick Julian Edelman.
]()Who's hot: Defensive line –We've been consistently pointing out the troubles the offense has had putting the ball in the end zone in goal-to-go situations. It's time to credit the defense for making that a reality. Monday sawMyron Pryor race from the backside to stonewallBenJarvus Green-Ellis **well short of the goal line, but the defensive front – regardless of personnel – has won virtually all of these battles all camp long.
Who's not: Jonathan Wilhite – The third-year corner struggled badly during the one-on-one drill and things didn't get much better once his defensive mates entered the picture. Julian Edelmangot the better of his a couple of times, easily catching touchdowns on crossing routes, and he appeared out of position on a couple of occasions during the team period. He missed several practices before returning last Friday so perhaps he's a bit rusty, but today wasn't Wilhite's best.
Play of the day (PM):The offense worked on situations inside the red zone and got a break when the defense was flagged for being offside, moving the ball 5 yards closer. Using a great play-action fake, Tom Bradylooked for Randy Mosson a quick hitter across the middle, but rookie Devin McCourtywas right there to knock the pass away. Brady gestured to the official for a flag but none was forthcoming.
The Patriots did plenty of substituting from the sidelines during some down-and-distance work during the first team period of practice. … Tate showed a nice burst on kick returns, hitting a huge hole created by a niceDan Connollyblock and bursting into the clear. … Brady once again sunk a pass into the barrel situated in the back corner of the end zone, connecting from 15 yards out. … Stephen Gostkowski hit the right upright with a 47-yard field goal attempt to close practice. It was his only miss in six attempts. … Tomorrow's practices with New Orleans will be open to the public. The morning session will run from 9 a.m.- 11 a.m. with the afternoon practice set from 3:45 p.m.-5:30 p.m. As always, check with Patriots.com for the latest schedule updates.