As more details of the owner-approved settlement agreement have come out, a more complete picture of the rules that will govern practices and on-field activities has emerged for when football does finally return.
The goal of many of these rule changes is to improve overall player health and wellness by reducing unnecessary contact and physical stress on the athletes, while trying not to significantly alter the games on Sunday. These changes are inciting a range of different responses, even just within the ranks of NFL players.
Some of these key rule changes are summarized below:
Organized Team Activities (OTAs) – The limit on off season OTAs will be reduced from 14 to 10 per year.
Training Camp – Training camps will start later, and teams will not be permitted to run full contact “two-a-day” practices any longer.
Padded Practices – Limits will be placed on the number of padded practices teams are allowed to hold. They will be limited to fourteen in total for the regular season, and eleven must come in the first eleven weeks, plus one per week for the post season.
Roster Expansion – The active game day rosters will be expanded to 46 players from the previous 45 and the special designation for the third string emergency quarterback will be removed. This provides teams some more flexibility in substitutions during games.
So far, these changes have met some mixed reviews. While players would be expected to welcome the reduced toll on their bodies, football has always idealized toughness as one of its key virtues, and some players are concerned about giving up that mindset.
“I think it’s wimping out, making football more soft,” said New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott, according to the Newark Star-Ledger. “No reason to try and make camp easy.
Scott went on to explain, “I get concerned you’re making football players weaker because you don’t push them past that threshold. … I get concerned with the same thing with the quarterback stuff, that they turn it into flag football; they turn it into little pansy stuff.”
Tennessee Titans veteran safety Chris Hope was also a little skeptical, in an interview with The Tennessean, saying “I’ve played on a veteran teams in Pittsburgh where two-a-days and all the contact wasn’t necessary because of the way we played on Sundays, and Coach [Bill] Cowher knew each and every individual was going to come into camp in shape and ready to go.”
“But when you have a younger team with new coaches and you’re trying to establish an identity, I am not totally against two-a-days. It’s something that could be beneficial.’’
San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis recently told ESPN that the added rest during the lockout has been important to him physically, supporting the argument that more rest and less contact during off season practices enables NFL players to better recover. “It does feel a little weird when you have so much time to yourself at this time of year, but I won’t lie, either — it has been nice in some ways. I’ve never really had a summer off since I started playing football, and I can feel the difference in my body. I can see that I really needed this.”
And as one of the toughest linebackers in the league, no one is going to call Willis soft.