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NFL passes defensive communication system over Bucs' objections

PALM BEACH — The feeling among many at the NFL owner meetings here is that Tuesday's vote in favor of defensive coach-to-player communications devices will level the playing field between offense and defense.

But there is considerably less agreement on whether the system will work as planned.

The measure passed by a 25-7 vote, giving defenses the same benefit offenses have long had: the ability for coaches to talk to a single player through an in-helmet speaker. Twenty-four votes were needed for passage, with the Bucs among those who voted against it.

"You're adding a technology to the game that's unnecessary, really," Bucs general manager Bruce Allen said.

Another issue, he said, is the devices' reliability in the helmet of a defensive player.

"We've also experienced over the years a lot of difficulty with it with quarterbacks when it goes out," Allen said. "And that's at a position where the person's not getting hit in the head. I would suggest that the (middle) linebacker might get hit a few times."

The Bucs are likely to designate middle linebacker Barrett Ruud to have the primary transmitter because he makes the defensive calls and is on the field in practically every lineup.

For Ruud and others, there are concerns. Colts coach Tony Dungy said teams were told in past years that the company that manufactures the units admitted it could not guarantee reliability in the helmets of players involved in frequent collisions.

Furthermore, Dungy said, offenses are likely to do their best to counteract the communication system by perhaps stalling before changing their personnel. Defenses make their calls based on the offensive lineup in the game, and the communication system will shut down when the play clock reaches 15 seconds.

"We might just tell Peyton (Manning), 'We're sending in the two-tight end group and here's the play. Let everyone know what's coming,'  " Dungy said. "With 15 seconds left (the defense) has figured out it's two tight ends and it's too late to talk.

"That will happen, I promise you. We wouldn't do it as much because Peyton wants to get to the line of scrimmage and have time there. But there's a lot of teams that will."

Even Titans coach Jeff Fisher, the co-chairman of the competition committee who was a supporter of the rule, admitted the addition of defensive communications won't spell the end of hand signals. It was thought that the Patriots' signal-taping scandal gave the measure some momentum after it was voted down the past two years.

"It's not going to eliminate signaling," Fisher said. "You're going to signal. We may signal 20 to 25 percent of the time.

"But I think, by all indications — we've thought through everything — it's going to go smooth."

In other news, the debate over the Chiefs' proposal to forbid players' hair to cover jersey nameplates or numbers was tabled, league officials said. Also, a result is expected today on a proposal to alter the playoff seeding format that is facing stiff opposition.

NFL passes defensive communication system over Bucs' objections 04/01/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 3, 2008 11:42am]
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