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Don't overlook this critical rule change for the 2019 season

The NFL is making sure all 32 teams understand the new officiating rules and points of emphasis in place for the 2019 season, so the league is sending groups of officials around the country to Training Camps to deliver the message.

On Friday, the NovaCare Complex was the first stop as a group of officials worked practice, made sure that the Eagles understand the plan in place for the season ahead, and then met interested media afterward to explain the big picture.

Among the changes, the one that could have the most impact is the rule removing blindside blocks.

"Players are not allowed to use the arms or shoulders for forcible contact when they are going back toward their goal line or parallel," said Shawn Smith, an NFL official entering his fifth season in the league and his second as a referee.

Players must adjust to an expansion of the existing prohibition on forcible contact to the head and neck of an opponent on blindside blocks. In 2019 and beyond, any forcible contact, whether with the head, shoulder, or forearm, will result in a foul for unnecessary roughness.

On kickoffs, the kicking team must have five players on either side of the kicker and all players must have at least one foot 1 yard behind the restraining line (the ball is kicked off from the 35-yard line, meaning players must line up at the 34-yard line) and both feet must be on the ground. This rule is unchanged from 2018, but was made permanent at the NFL Annual Meeting in March.

Teams also will be penalized when players and team personnel from the bench area who are not in uniform leave the bench area and enter the field of play to celebrate a big play.

Of course, the most publicized change is the one involving pass interference. Both offensive and defensive pass interference, whether called on the field or not, are now reviewable aspects of any play and may be challenged by coaches outside of the final two minutes of either half. Review of called or potential pass interference fouls inside two minutes of either half, and on scoring plays and turnovers, will fall within the purview of the Art McNally Gameday Central and Senior VP of Officiating Alberto Riveron in New York.

"I don't know how much that is going to change the game," Smith said. "It's not a change for us (the officials), it's just a reviewable play. The ruling of pass interference hasn't been changed."

An area that is a point of emphasis this year is a rule that was implemented last season: Players who lower their helmet to initiate contact with an opposing player – offensive or defensive – will be penalized. After a rash of penalties throughout the league in last year's preseason, the flags were minimal during the regular season (18 total, only two teams had more than one). Players adjusted to the new rule.

This season, though, the rule will be emphasized among the officials.

"It's putting it out there for everyone that is involved in the game, to know that they do not want you to lower your head to initiate contact, whether that's making a tackle, whether that's making a block, or whether you're trying to protect yourself," Smith said. "It covers the whole gamut across the field. We're working with some of the best athletes in the world and they adjust. Every year we have different rules changes and by the time the regular season rolls around, they adjust and it's not a big difference in the game."

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