The Pittsburgh Steelers wing in the NFL Hall of Fame has a chance of adding a name or two (or three) this year.
Tuesday, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced the list of 25 semifinalists, which included three former Steelers.
The new name this year joining two holdovers is former All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu, which is the first year on the ballot for him. Two other first timers that made the list of semifinalists are wide receiver Reggie Wayne and linebacker Patrick Willis.
Two other Steelers that made the semifinalist list are wide receiver Hines Ward and guard Alan Faneca, who made it to the final 10 last year.
The other 20 semifinalists are linebacker Carl Banks, running back Fred Taylor, running back Ricky Watters, defensive tackle Bryant Young, running back Edgerrin James, wide receiver Isaac Bruce, wide receiver Torry Holt, offensive tackle Tony Boselli, offensive tackle Steve Hutchinson, defensive end Simeon Rice, defensive end Richard Seymour, linebacker Clay Matthews, linebacker Sam Mills, linebacker Zach Thomas, defensive back Steve Atwater, defensive back Ronde Barber, defensive back LeRoy Butler, defensive back John Lynch, defensive back Darren Woodson and special teamer Steve Tasker.
In January, this group of 25 players will be narrowed down to 15 finalists. The actual Hall of Fame Class will be voted on the day before the Super Bowl. The five players that made the list of finalists last year but came up short in voting were Faneca, Hutchinson, Atwater, Boselli and James.
NFL to Allow Three Players to Return from Injured Reserve
The NFL owners have voted to expand the number of players that can return from the injured reserve list during the virtual 2020 owner’s meetings, the second session of which was held virtually on Thursday.
NFL teams will now be able to place three players on injured reserve and allow them to return to competition in the same season. Teams had been allowed to return two such players since 2017. When the rule was first installed, only one player could return and he had to be identified beforehand.
Now, players are eligible to return from injured reserve after missing eight weeks, which was clarified in the updated rule for 2020 to mean eight missed team games, and not eight calendar weeks. A regular-season bye week will not count in the eight weeks required to be served. Postseason bye weeks will continue to count toward the minimum.
Players will still be allowed to practice with their teams for two weeks preceding their eligibility to return from the reserve list, and a total of 21 days before he must be added to the roster or remain on injured reserve for the rest of the season.
The proposal, which was submitted by the league office, was the only modification to the league’s bylaws approved during Thursday’s meeting. There were several changes made to the league’s playing rules.
The Steelers placed 10 players on the injured reserve list in 2019: defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and LT Walton, fullback Roosevelt Nix, linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph, safety Sean Davis, tight end Xavier Grimble and wide receiver Ryan Switzer. None returned from the designation to play in 2019.
NFL Owners Approve Changes to Automatic Replay, Defenseless Receivers, Timing
The NFL owners approved three rules changes during the 2020 NFL owner’s meetings, the second phase of which was held virtually on Thursday.
Among the changes were measures to make permanent the 2019 expansion of replay review to include scoring plays and turnovers negated by a penalty, increase defenseless player protections to kickoff and punt returns and to prevent offenses from abusing the clock by committing successive penalties.
The first proposal, submitted by the Philadelphia Eagles, is the most impactful. Any scoring play or turnover will continue to be automatically reviewed, even if there is a penalty on the play that could negate the ruling. Extra point and two-point conversion plays will also be automatically reviewed.
Additionally, kick and punt returners will now receive defenseless player protections until they have become a runner.
“Players in a defenseless posture are … a kickoff or punt returner attempting to field a kick in the air who has not had time to clearly become a runner,” the adjusted rule reads. “If the player is capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact of an opponent, he is no longer a defenseless player.”
It is a penalty to forcibly hit the head or neck area of a defenseless player, hit a defenseless player by lowering the head and making forcible contact with the helmet and launching into a defenseless player. The penalty for illegal contact to a defenseless player is a 15-yard loss and an automatic first down. Flagrant violations are subject to ejection based on the discretion of the referee.
Finally, a timing change will prevent offenses from milking the clock by committing successive dead-ball penalties. Such tactic was already prevented by rule from occurring inside the two-minute warning at each half, but was permissible otherwise. Both New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrable have used the tactic in the past, with Vrabel drawing Belichick’s ire for using it against New England in 2019. Belichick called it at that point “a loophole that will be closed and probably should be closed.”
NFL Owners Table Alternative Onside Kick Proposal
The NFL did not pass a proposal that would have provided an alternative to the onside kick during Thursday’s second round of virtual league meetings, according to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated.
Per source, the onside kick proposal did NOT pass.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) May 28, 2020
According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, the proposal has been tabled for further discussion at a later date.
NFL owners have tabled the 4th-and-15 alternative to the onside kick, I’m told. Further discussion needed.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) May 28, 2020
Since the league instituted changes to kickoffs two years ago to improve player safety, onside kicks have become less and less successful, prompting support for an alternative with better odds.
According to NFL Director of Data and Analytics Michael Lopez, “teams are 0-104 when attempting an expected onside kick.”
Other notes:— Michael Lopez (@StatsbyLopez) May 28, 2020
– There's a penalty on about 18% of onside kicks, by far the highest rate of all play types
– Teams attempting an onsides kick have won about 2% of the time since 2003. In last two years, teams are 0-and-104 when attempting an expected onside kick
The proposal would give teams the option to try and convert a 4th-and-15 to retain possession instead of attempting a traditional onside kick. This alternative would only be available to use twice per game.
With league owners opting to table to proposal, it appears that there is still interest in finding an onside kick alternate, but that the league wants further exploration into the 4th-and-15 try or other innovative options.