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NFL approves rule for spotters to tell officials about player with concussion-like symptoms

New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman reacts

New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman reacts after catching a three-yard touchdown pass during the second half of Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. Credit: AP / David J. Phillip

PHOENIX - League owners voted unanimously at the NFL's Annual Meeting on Tuesday to approve a new rule which will allow a spotter in the press box to communicate with officials and stop a game if he sees a player who appears to have concussion-like symptoms.

Had that rule been on the books as recently as two months ago, it might have altered the outcome of the Super Bowl.

It was in the fourth quarter of that game when Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman caught a 21-yard pass and was hit hard by Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. He appeared dazed after the hit, but he returned to the huddle and did not leave the game. Edelman wound up catching the game-winning touchdown.

The Competition Committee analyzed that sequence of events in proposing the new rule.

"The Edelman situation was a play we looked at and it was part of the issue," chairman Rich McKay said on Monday. "There were a couple of other plays that go back a couple of years that we looked at and really it came a little bit from the health and safety committee just saying, 'We've got the ATC spotters, they've got a really good vantage point, they've got technology in their booth, they're communicating pretty well with our trainers and doctors and we've got a pretty good rhythm going there, why would we miss a player where a player shouldn't come out?' Maybe this becomes the fail-safe."

Prior to the rule being adopted, trainers in the press box were able to alert medical staffs to something that might have been missed on the field.

"This [resolution] now allows the ATC spotter to communicate directly with the game officials through their wireless communication system," NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said Monday. "He can say, 'We have to get 82 out of the game.' So it will happen before the next snap. He'll communicate with a member of the officiating crew and that game official will immediately stop the game. If the play clock is running, they will stop. They will freeze. The player will be escorted to the sideline and the medical staff will attend to him if they need to on the field. Or they will take him off to the sideline to attend to him. Then everything will start up again."

McKay said he doesn't think the new rule will interfere with the flow of the game.

"We do not expect this to be a rule that gets used a lot," he said. "We expect it to be a fail-safe when people just don't see this player and the distress the player may have had, the ATC spotter does and stops the game."

Four other safety-based rules also were approved on Tuesday, including:

-- The broadening of the prohibition on peel-back blocks to include all offensive players and not just those inside the tackle box.

-- Protection of wide receivers as defenseless players in the "immediate continuing action following an interception."

-- The elimination of chop blocks by running backs outside the area originally occupied by a tight end.

-- The addition of a penalty for defensive players pushing their teammates when the opposing team is in a punt formation.


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