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NFL may change way suspected concussions are handled

The competition committee has proposed putting a trainer in the booth with the authority to remove a player showing symptoms.

PHOENIX - With 11 minutes left in Super Bowl XLIX and his team trailing by 10, Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman caught a critical pass over the middle for a first down, but paid a painful price. He was immediately leveled by Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor, who drilled him in the head/neck area with his shoulder.

To the tens of millions of people watching on television, Edelman appeared to be a little disoriented as he got up off the ground, possibly concussed. But he stayed in the game.

If the same thing happens to a receiver in a game next year, though, there's a very good chance the game will be halted and the receiver will be sent to the sideline for a concussion examination.

The NFL's competition committee has proposed giving a certified athletic trainer (ATC) up in the booth the authority to stop a game if they see a player who is disoriented or showing signs of distress and have him removed from the game until he is checked out. The owners are expected to overwhelmingly approve the proposal before the league adjourns its 3 days of meetings at the Arizona Biltmore Resort tomorrow.

"The spotter upstairs in the press box will have the authority to stop the game if they see a player that displays obvious signs of disorientation or is clearly unstable," said Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, who is co-chairman of the competition committee.

The on-field officials already are instructed to look for players who are in distress. But in the event they miss one, the spotter in the booth will have the ability to radio the side judge, stop the game and have the player removed from the field to be examined.

Edelman eventually was examined by a neurologist and cleared to play, but stayed on the field for several plays after the hit by Chancellor before he finally was checked out.

"The Edelman situation was a play we looked at," McKay said. "And it was part of the issue. There were a couple of other plays that go back a couple of years that we also looked at."

McKay said the proposal came "a little bit" from the league's health and safety committee.

"The spotters [trainers with ATC accreditation] have a a really good vantage point," he said. "They've got technology in their booth [replay capabilities]. They've been communicating pretty well with our trainers and doctors and we've got a pretty good rhythm going there.

"We don't want to miss a play where a player should come out. Maybe this becomes the fail-safe. We don't expect this to be a rule that gets used a lot. We expect it to be a fail-safe when people [on the field] just don't see this player and the distress he may have had. But the ATC spotter does and can stop the game."

Eighteen rule changes were proposed by clubs this year. Thirteen of them have to do with expanding the instant-replay challenge system, from making every play reviewable (Patriots), to making penalties reviewable (Lions), to making hits on defenseless players (Colts) reviewable, to using replay to review the game clock at the end of the half or game is time is in dispute.

The only replay proposal the competition committee recommended to the owners yesterday was game-clock reviews at the end of the half or game.

The competition committee was vehemently opposed to adding penalties to the list of reviewable plays. They issued a statement that said, "not only would it be a significant philosophical adjustment, [but] the committee believes it would have unforeseen negative effects for on-field officiating."

St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who co-chairs the competition committee with McKay, said the Canadian Football League experimented last year with making defensive pass interference penalties reviewable. He said there 55 reviews, 49 of which were initiated by the coaches. Just six were overturned.

"The big thing is the standard," Fisher said. "The standard is very, very difficult. The on-the-field, full-speed standard versus the frame-by-frame review. Basically, what you'd be doing is adding another element of subjectivity."

The competition committee also has proposed tweaking the language of the catch/no catch rule, which got a lot of attention in the Cowboys' playoff loss to the Packers when an apparent fourth-quarter touchdown catch by Dez Bryant was waved off when the ball squirted loose after he hit the ground.

Basically, the wording on the requirement for a catch will be changed from having the ball long enough to perform an act common to the game to having it long enough to clearly become a runner. They both basically mean the same thing, but the second one's easier to understand.

In instances like Bryant's, where he fell to the ground before becoming a runner, he has to hold on to the ball until after the initial contact with the ground.

"The standard hasn't changed," vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said. "The way that we're communicating the standard has changed."

Said Fisher: "It really clears things up. From a coaching standpoint, [you tell them] if you're going to the ground, hold on to the ball."

Compensatory picks

The NFL awarded 32 compensatory draft picks yesterday for free agents that signed with other teams in 2014. The Eagles did not receive any picks. Neither did any other NFC East team.