NFL ANALYSIS: Owners vote for defense tech upgrade

Tuesday, April 1, 2008 at 11:51pm

By a vote of 25-7 Tuesday, the NFL ratified the recommendation of allowing one defensive player to have an earpiece in his helmet.

The vote was made at the spring owners meetings in Palm Beach, Fla.

No one is saying for sure, but you can bet the move is somehow tied to the now-infamous New England Patriots Spygate mess that continues to linger now months after the Pats were caught illegally videotaping defensive signals against the New York Jets.

Under the new rule, defensive teams will be allowed to have one player on the field at all times — most likely a linebacker — to relay the defensive signals. That player will be designated as such, and will have a backup in the event that player leaves the game. No team can have two players on the field with the device at the same time.

“We are talking about a three-down player, perhaps a linebacker who doesn’t come off the field,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher told the Associated Press at the meetings. “In the event he goes down because of an injury, we'd identify our backup player as another three-down player.”

In the Titans’ case, linebacker Keith Bulluck or perhaps David Thornton would likely be the player wearing the earpiece in his helmet.

Fisher said the new rule would not completely eliminate the need for defensive signals o the sideline, though it will curtail it quite a bit.

“The defense will still have need to signal in a hurry-up situation, where the ball is snapped very early,” Fisher added.

Still, the measure, which failed only two years ago, received enough votes to pass by a three-fourths margin on Tuesday. And reading between the lines, it probably got some help because of Bill Belichick and Spygate.

At the NFL Combine in February, Fisher emphasized that the league wanted to make sure it regulated such things as videotaping to ensure that all teams were on an even playing field and to avoid a “Star Wars” type of approach to the game.

In truth, the move makes sense for more than eliminating any temptations to video opponents (as if losing a first-round pick and hefty fines aren’t enough of a deterrent).

In the NFL’s never-ending quest to keep the unfair advantages to a minimum, the defense should have the same technology at its disposal as the offense, because quarterbacks have had the earpiece in their helmets for years now.

That has all but eliminated the need for offensive coordinators or other assistant coaches to have to relay in signals from the sidelines or the even more archaic rotation of a player on and off the field after every play.

By giving the defense the same access, it is a step forward for a league that prides itself on using technology to level the playing field.

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