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Officials help with rules changes; Wed A.M. notes

As has become a training camp tradition, an officiating crew visited Gillette Stadium to help the players and coaches become more familiar with the various rules changes that go into effect this season. Referee Terry McAulayled a group that included head linesman Ed Camp, field judge Greg Gautreaux, and rookie umpire Paul King.

During the morning workout, McAulay and his team spent some time talking with head coach Bill Belichick, his staff, and Patriots players. Then, during offense-versus-defense periods, like 7-on-7, scout team, and full team work, the officials actively took part, throwing flags when necessary and making calls to simulate live game situations.

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]()After taking part in practice, the officials joined the assembled media in the Gillette Stadium press box to present a video demonstrating the various rules changes and to entertain questions from reporters.

The most notable changes involve what became known this offseason as "The Tom BradyRule." More of an adjustment than an actual change to the rules, this measure came about following the season-ending injury to the Pats QB last season. It will
now allow officials to flag defenders with a 15-yard penalty if they are knocked to the ground and continue to lunge at the quarterback using a helmet, forearm, or shoulder to make what is deemed to be an unnecessarily rough tackle. Defenders who are on the ground can still attempt to take down the quarterback by swiping at or wrapping up the QB's legs with their arms and hands. It appears that there could be some grey area with regard to interpretation of this rule on a case-by-case basis.

Another change that was discussed was the elimination of contact to a defenseless receiver's head or neck area (what some called The Wes WelkerRule). A perfect example of this type of play came last season, when New England's star receiver was blind-sided by Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark. Welker left the game and did not return as a result of the hit. You'll recall that the pass intended for Welker sailed wide after it was tipped at the line of scrimmage. Welker completed his route but slowed down when he saw the ball was uncatchable. But Clark did not let up in his attempt to hit Welker, launching himself at Welker and striking him under the chin with his forearm and shoulder.

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]()Beginning this season, hits of this nature, in which it appears a player is in a defenseless position, will be deemed illegal if the blow is delivered helmet-to-helmet (which was already on the books) or with the forearm or shoulder to the head or neck area. Violations of this rule will result in a 15-yard penalty.

The third most significant change involves kickoff return teams. Those units will no longer be allowed to use a wedge formation that uses more than two players shoulder-to-shoulder (except on on-side kicks). McAulay explained that if more than two players are involved in a wedge, they must be at least two yards away - front, back, or to the side - from the two legal wedge players.

"If a double wedge - you know, two two-player wedges - forms at the 10-yard line [with at least two yards between them]," McAulay went on to explain, "and then they come to a 'V,' that would be perfectly legal because they're not coming together to go forward."

In other words, the wedge cannot be assembled with more than two players at the start of the return. As McAulay indicated, they can come together in a 'V' pattern as the run-back develops, thus giving the kicking team time to react to where the return is being focused. The intent of this change was seen as more of a player safety concern, so that a so-called "wedge-buster" - a player on the kicking team sent to launch himself into the wedge to break it up - would no longer need to be employed by the coverage unit.

McAulay and his crew will be at practice for the rest of the week. This marks the seventh season that the NFL has provided officials for a portion of training camp.

Morning Practice Notebook

Weather: Hazy, Hot, Humid

Who's Hot: The Patriots running backs
The committe of Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, Fred Taylor, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis has quietly been getting the job done in every phase of the game through the first week of camp.

Who's Not: Chris Baker
The free agent tight end has been finding ways to get open downfield in the passing game, but he has too often been a step too slow in getting to where he needs to be to haul in the precise timing passes from Tom Brady.

Play of Practice: Brady to Moss TD
On the last play of the group period at the end of practice, Brady found WR Randy Mossin the back of the end zone and fired a laser strike to him. Moss made the catch, then instantly turned and punted the ball to the fans sitting on the berm behind the end zone.

  • The A.M. workout marked the 13th practice of this year's camp. Some good news to report, as rookie DL Darryl Richardwas presumably taken off the PUP list. No official announcement has been made yet by the team, but Richard was in uniform for practice for the first time this summer. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork was not there, but today was the day his wife was expected to deliver their third child, so that's most likely the explanation. Absentees included most of the usual suspects: CB *Jonathan Wilhite, CB Shawn Springs, LB Tedy Bruschi, OL Al Johnson, OL George Bussey, OL Ryan O'Callaghan, TE Benjamin Watson, DL Le Kevin Smith, DL Myron Pryor, LB Tully Banta-Cain, and DL Richard Seymour. The other players on PUP/NFI (minus Richard) remaineses that go into effect this season.
  • Moss had a rare drop during team work against the scout team. He ran a slant toward the right side of the field and had broken into the clear. QB Tom Brady saw it and fired a timing pass in his direction. The ball hit Moss right in the hands, but he couldn't hang onto it. If he had, the play would likely have gone for a long touchdown.
  • A few plays later, Brady hit WR Joey Gallowayon a crossing pattern over the middle. The pass was a little in front of him, so Galloway had to extend to make the catch. As soon as he did, he was met by safety Matthew Slater, but he hung onto the ball because the tackling in this series was only half-speed. In a real game situation, Galloway might've been leveled.

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]()* Rookie CB Darius Butlermade a nice play against Welker in team work. From about 40 yards out, Brady danced in the pocket for a while, trying to find an open receiver. Finally, he spotted Welker running along the end line from the right side toward the goal posts. Brady's bullet was a little high, so Welker jumped for it, but Butler got there first and knocked the pass down, saving a touchdown.

  • In the goal-line series, Brady found Moss for a touchdown in the right side of the end zone after Butler and CB Terrence Wheatleygot mixed up in coverage. Butler fell and Wheatley was unsure of who to cover, leaving Moss wide open for the easy score. All Brady had to do was float the ball to him.
  • Next play, OLB Adalius Thomasmade a nice effort to knock down a Brady pass at the line of scrimmage. Thomas was rushing from the left side and when he saw Brady cock his arm back, he timed his jump perfectly and nearly came down with an interception.
  • With the officials on the field making calls, Thomas was flagged for what looked like a neutral zone infraction on another play. He was told to take a punishment lap around the field.
  • Robert and Jonathan Kraft made an appearance on the field this morning with guests.
  • Former Broncos coach Mike Shanahantook in practice for the second straight day.
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