FOXBORO, Mass. -- NFL officials were at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday to observe practice and to explain the rule changes for the 2007 NFL season. Each year, the NFL sends a group of officials to visit each team to show a video illustrating the changes and to explain the latest rule changes. The officials spend time watching practice, then answer questions for both the players and the media. Larry Nemmers headed the crew at Gillette this year.
Some highlights from Nemmers of the rules with the biggest expected impact:
The end zone pylon rule - Players must now cross over the pylon, or touch the pylon with the ball in order to count as a score. No longer is the end one like a line that circles the earth where a player's "other" hand can cross the pylon and count. Now the ball must cross the vertical line of the end zone somewhere within the field of play in order to count.
The illegal contact rule - If a defensive player touches a receiver more than 5-yards down field and the quarterback is out of the pocket, the contact is not illegal. The quarterback must throw the ball to a different receiver. This should cut down on the ticky-tack fouls called on defenders who lay a hand on the receiver on the opposite side of the field when the play is going elsewhere. Specifically the quarterback must be out of the pocket or the ball must be in the air to a different receiver for it NOT to be illegal. If the quarterback is in the pocket and looking down field the 5-yard rule applies, as well as possible pass interference if the receiver becomes the intended target.
More illegal contact (safety) - If a cut block happens down field on any player who is unaware of the impending hit, then that will be a personal foul (15 yards). This is an attempt to prevent defenders from hitting an opposing player who is not looking. Specific examples include the injury to a Carolina Panther WR who was cut blocked down field when he wasn't looking. The hit, by a Saints player, would be a penalty this year including possible suspension or fine.
Taunting -- Any "in your face" taunting by a player attempting to intimidate (stand over, yell in their face, use their head/shoulders/body) another player after a play (big hit, pass catch, first down) will result in an unsportsmanlike penalty.
Spiking the ball - Players who spike or throw the ball in frustration or celebration, will be penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct if it is NOT a scoring play.
Unintentional contact with the ball - The rule that used to penalize an offensive team for an ineligible player (linemen) touching a forward pass, has been changed. If the player unintentionally touches the ball, there will be no foul. If they try to catch the ball but drop it, and they did not report as an eligible receiver before the start of the play, then it's still a foul.
Those are some of the finer points of the rule changes. You can find the current rule book on NFL.com