RENTON – The phrase the Seahawks should get familiar with this season is really just two words: run free.
That’s how longtime NFL official Alberto Riveron described the NFL’s new emphasis on illegal contact and defensive holding. Defenders can be physical with a receiver in the first 5 yards, Riveron said, but they must let the receiver “run free” after that.
“So you can’t go out and initiate contact,” Riveron said last week. “You can’t hold or anything like that. After that 5 yards, you’ve got to back off.”
What that means for the Seahawks will be one of the preseason’s more interesting developments. When the league revealed this offseason that illegal contact and defensive holding would be a “major point of emphasis,” many made the connection with the Seahawks’ physical secondary. Even coach Pete Carroll said he viewed the new emphasis as a sign of “respect.”
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In the buildup to Seattle’s first preseason game Thursday against the Broncos, NFL officials visited the Seahawks training camp and called penalties according to the new guidelines. That meant more penalty flags were thrown for clutching and grabbing than might have been the case last season, said NFL referee Craig Wrolstad.
“If you watched this morning’s practice, we had a number of plays where we had a grab or a pull or contact,” Wrolstad said last week. “But these guys are professionals, and they can really modify their play to the rules.”
In the past, if a defensive back grabbed a receiver’s jersey, officials had to make a judgment call on whether the grab restricted the receiver. But any grabbing of the jersey this year will result in an automatic flag.
The Seahawks led the league in pass-interference penalties last season, and they’ve been accused of testing the limits of the rule book.
Former Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks told the New York Post last season that the Seahawks are “one of those teams that is willing to get a couple of (defensive holding, illegal contact or interference) penalties to be able to play the way they do.”
The Seahawks have worked with their defensive backs on adjusting to the new emphasis this offseason, and Carroll said his group is comfortable with the changes.
“We’re not fighting or resisting the changes that are here,” Carroll said. “We’re trying to adapt and go with it.”
Among other rules changes:
• The NFL will experiment with attempting extra points from the 15-yard line for the first two weeks of the preseason.
• Offensive blockers will not be allowed to “roll up” on the legs of a defender from the back or side.
• The use of abusive, threatening or insulting language, including “racial slurs, comments regarding sexual orientation or other verbal abuse” will result in a 15-yard penalty and potential further discipline from the league.
• Illegal hands to the face between offensive and defensive linemen will be expanded to include any “direct or forcible contact” to the head, neck or face.
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org