NFL Season Primer: 2015 Rule Changes

Training Camp is on the way, so here are a few things to keep in mind

The Chargers open Training Camp 2015 on Thursday, July 30. To get you back into football mode we'll be looking at a few important aspects of the upcoming NFL season. First off, a few important rule changes have been adopted.

There are nine, to be specific. Some of them are fairly small. For example, now an Unsportsmanlike Conduct foul at the end of a half will be applied to the ensuing kickoff. Before those fouls were swallowed up by halftime and not enforced. Also, linebackers can now wear jersey numbers between 40 and 49. Not exactly earth-shaking stuff.

Most of the changes are, not surprisingly, focused on player safety. One is a punt formation rule to protect long snappers. Much like the rule that was adopted two years ago on field goals and extra point tries, now a defensive team lining up against a punt cannot push team-mates in to the offensive formation and anyone on the line must be outside the snapper's pads (violations result in a 15-yard penalty).

There are three others based on safety. One prohibits an offensive player from blocking a defensive player below the waist when that player is engaged above the waist by another offensive player OUTSIDE the area originally occupied by the tight end.

Another makes "peel back" blocks (where the offensive player hits the defensive player from the side, often unseen, as the defensive player is running towards his own end zone) illegal for EVERYONE on the offense in all areas of the field.

A third gives the intended receiver of a pass "defenseless player protection" immediately after an interception or potential interception. Before a pass catcher could be blasted if the ball was intercepted in front of him. Now that's a penalty, as long as the hit comes in what's considered "immediate continuing action" of a pick.

There's a rule that I think we can attribute directly to the New England Patriots (shocker). The Pats used a unique formation in the AFC Playoffs against the Baltimore Ravens when running back Shane Vereen declared himself ineligible, then lined up in the slot (a place where he normally would be able to catch a pass). The NFL now mandates that a player who declares himself ineligible cannot line up outside the tackle box or it's a 5-yard penalty.

And then we have two changes that will have quite the impact on games. One is moving the line of scrimmage for extra points (or, Try Kicks, as the NFL terms them) back to the 15-yard line. This is something the league experimented with in the 2014 pre-season. It will be in effect for all extra points in the 2015 season (2-point conversions will still be run from the 2-yard line). Plus, defensive teams can now return a missed or blocked extra point for two points of their own, a rule that has long been in place in college football.

The final change expands the Instant Replay System to include reviews of the game clock on the final play of a half or overtime. In a nutshell, if there's an error in the operation of the game clock, time can be put back on (or taken off). We saw this kind of rule applied recently in college football.

At the end of the 2013 Iron Bowl, Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon ran to the Auburn 38-yard line and stepped out of bounds as time expired. A review put one second on the clock, prompting Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban to send out his field goal unit. The 57-yard attempt was short ... and Chris Davis (now a Chargers cornerback) returned it 100-plus yards for the game-winning touchdown.

Now that kind of excitement is available in the NFL. So, Mike McCoy, remember ... put Chris Davis in the end zone every time an opposing team tries a field goal.

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