PHOENIX — Despite concerns from some coaches and executives, NFL owners voted Wednesday to pass a player-safety rule proposal that makes it illegal for ball carriers outside of the tackle box to use the crown of their helmet to hit defenders.
Cincinnati was the only team to vote against the rule, which was the most talked-about proposal at this year’s annual meeting.
“The membership was really, really excited,” said Rams coach and Competition Committee member Jeff Fisher. “One of the few times that you’ve heard people clap. This is a very important step in our continuing efforts to emphasize player safety.
“Some of the discussions we had in the last few days was how it was going to be officiated, how is it going to be coached, those types of things. Every time we make a change like this, there are adjustments to be made, and I think this is a huge victory for the National Football League.”
Bill Belichick was one of several coaches to question how the new rule would be officiated.
“I think the game is pretty hard to officiate as it is,” Belichick said Tuesday. “I think this is a real hard rule to officiate.”
Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones understood those concerns.
“Any time we have a rule or rule change, how it’s officiated is a big topic, and it was discussed for the last several months and we feel that our officials can get a handle on that,” Jones said. “They certainly did. But it will certainly make our runners aware of what we expect relative to use of the helmet.
“One the questions I ask a lot is who gains from this, offense or defense? And it’s a tossup. The main thing is, it’s pro health and safety. That’s a good thing.”
Some running backs had been critical of the proposal, while defensive players have noted that it’s about time — they have long been flagged for leading with the crown of the helmet, and now offensive players can be, too.
The penalty will be 15 yards from the spot of the foul. If both the offensive and defensive players involved in a play lower their heads and use the crown of the helmet to make contact, each will be penalized.
Raves from Carroll
Former Patriots coach Pete Carroll was asked about kickoff returner/running back Leon Washington, who spent the last three seasons with Carroll’s Seahawks before signing a one-year deal last week to join the Patriots.
“He’s an amazing kid, a great, competitive kid,” said Carroll. “Loved him on our team. He was a big factor, and we hated to have to move on without him.
“The Patriots are getting a guy who’s there every minute. He’s a great practice player, very savvy game player, very determined to prove himself, which is what you love about him.
“He has tons of skills. He’s an exciting returner who takes the special teams aspect as seriously as it’s ever been taken. He’s one of the all-time greats.
“They get a fantastic football player, and he can play from the line of scrimmage, too — catch the football out of the backfield. He’s very elusive, a tough blocker. He’s a complete football player.”
Several coaches talked this week about the former Patriots players they’ve added through free agency.
New Eagles coach Chip Kelly recalled what stood out about Patrick Chung at Oregon, where Kelly was offensive coordinator during Chung’s career.
“Pat’s an unbelievable competitor and absolutely loves playing football,” Kelly said. “So we’d play on Saturday, I’d come in early to work on Sunday, and Pat would already be in the office watching the game tape.
“He’s that type of guy. He loves the game, he loves the strategy in the game, he loves to practice, an unbelievable competitor.”
Chargers coach Mike McCoy thinks running back Danny Woodhead will bring much-needed versatility to a system he should be familiar with.
“I think he can play on all downs for us,” McCoy said. “Having worked with Josh McDaniels before in Denver, and knowing the system [the Patriots] run, there will be things that we’ll do that are very similar.”
Colts coach Chuck Pagano expects Donald Thomas to compete for the starting job at left guard.
“An explosive player,” Pagano said. “Run blocking, very effective. Pass, does a great job in pass pro.
“There’s a lot of qualities that Donald brings to the table that obviously can help our offensive line.”
Two are re-signed
The Patriots announced that Niko Koutouvides and Marquice Cole have been re-signed. A nine-year veteran, the 31-year-old Koutouvides played in 14 games last season, almost exclusively on special teams. Cole also played in 14 games, with most of his time coming on special teams. But the four-year vet did make one start at cornerback and recorded one interception.