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Steelers President Art Rooney II Weighs in on Onside Kick, Replay Review Changes

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The NFL owners passed seven rule changes at their league meetings Wednesday, including alterations to replay, onside kicks and jersey numbers.

Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II weighed in on the approved changes, but was primarily relieved an adjustment to the chop-block rule was not passed.

“Probably the most significant one was the one that didn’t pass, which was the chop-block rule that we had some concerns about,” Rooney told Steelers.com. “Our biggest concern with that was while you understand the reason for the rule because chop blocks can lead to lower body injuries, the concern we had was you’re maybe trading one set of problems for another. This (rule) could have cornerbacks, smaller guys out on the field trying to defend themselves against 300-pound guards and tackles pulling around the end and trying to take on those blocks. If you’re able to cut (the big guys) that gives (the little guys) a bit of a fighting chance against the bigger guy. It’s really a question of big people against little people, and how do the little people defend themselves in situations in the open field. We just thought that rule needed to be studied a little more, and so that was tabled.”

The owners did abolish overtime during the preseason, which has also been shortened to three games this offseason.

“We were in favor of eliminating overtime in preseason, so that is a good development,” Rooney said.

They did pass a proposal to limit the number of players a receiving team can position in the box on onside kick attempts, which is aimed at improving their success for the kicking team. While it is only a one-year trial, Rooney is pleased, calling it the “most significant” change.

“It’s only passed for one year, and so we’ll see if it makes any difference,” he said. “But with some of the recent rules changes that had been made, the percentage of onside kicks recovered by the kicking team has really dropped. This is an effort to provide a little better opportunity for the kicking team to recover.”

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The owners made changes to replay as well. They did not approve the Baltimore Ravens proposal of an eight game official above the playing surface, but will allow “the Replay Official and designated members of the Officiating department to provide certain objective information to the on-field officials.” Rooney was not sold on the Ravens’ proposal, believing simplicity is the best policy.

“Some of the comments we had were along the lines of ‘just too much replay,’ and I personally think we should do one or the other,” Rooney said. “If we’re going to bring the extra official in and make him the replay official in the stadium, I wouldn’t have a problem with that, but then let’s eliminate the replay in New York. I don’t think we need both. It’s really more of an administration question, in terms of where you’re going to do the replays. Before we moved replay to Central Command, it was done in stadiums and the replay official was part of the officiating crew. I at least think there’s some merit to that. With technology and all the camera angles available to us, it’s really a question of what’s the best way to do it, what’s the best location for people to do the replays from. I don’t think we need to have that many sets of eyes and that many decision-makers in the mix.

“I’m not going to tell you I didn’t have some concerns about it,” Rooney added. “It’s really a question of: where do you do the replays from, and who really has the ability to overturn a call. This rule is designed to provide more information to the on-field referee who still has the final authority to make a call unless it goes to an official replay. These things are happening without it going to an official challenge. It can get a little confusing, and we’ll see how it works. I think we need to look harder at the whole replay situation and make sure we don’t have too many voices in the referee’s ear.”

While Rooney reiterated his belief that NFL officials do an exceptional job, he reiterated that their responsibilities are incredibly difficult and that the league should be doing everything in their power to make their jobs easier.

“No. 1, I think our officials do a great job considering the speed of the game,” Rooney said. “We’ve made this a much harder game to officiate than ever before, with all of the different rules changes and the safety rules we have now, so they don’t have an easy job and we all recognize that. If we can provide help through replay or through technology, I think we need to be open to look at how best we do that. With the number of cameras and the high-definition cameras nowadays, the clarity is much better than it used to be. Making sure we’re getting calls right is the No. 1 consideration. Every year there are proposals designed to make sure we’re getting the calls right, but at the end of the day I do think there is such a thing as too many replays and too many people in the referee’s ear. There is a balance there we’re trying to get to.”

The league also approved rule changes allowing skills positions to wear single digit jerseys numbers, a penalty for a second forward pass behind the line of scrimmage and the enforcement of penalties on PATs, but Rooney did not offer comment.

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