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Sports people: Lunges toward QBs limited in NFL safety push

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's leg buckles on a tackle from  Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard on opening day in 2007.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's leg buckles on a tackle from Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard on opening day in 2007.

DANA POINT, Calif. – NFL owners passed four player safety rules for next season on Tuesday and adjusted the calls on the kind of tackle that injured Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the 2008 opener.

Defenders who are knocked to the ground no longer can lunge into quarterbacks if the play is still going on. Kansas City safety Bernard Pollard did just that on the hit that ended Brady’s season almost before it began, and NFL officiating director Mike Pereira placed such plays in the player safety category.

“We’re trying to make the game safer for the guy getting hit and the guy doing the hitting,” said Pereira, who plans to retire this year.

That adjustment was not a rule change and did not require an owners vote. But four other rules were adopted by the 32 teams:

• The initial force of a blindside block can’t be delivered by a helmet, forearm or shoulder to an opponent’s head or neck. An illegal blindside block will bring a 15-yard penalty.

• Initial contact to the head of a defenseless receiver also will draw a 15-yard penalty.

“Our clear movement is to getting out of the striking in the head area,” Pereira said. “We’re reading about injuries that say spinal and vertebrae. We’ve got to try something.”

• On kickoffs, no blocking wedge of more than two players will be allowed. A 15-yard penalty will go to a violating team.

• Also on kickoffs, the kicking team can’t have more than five players bunched together pursuing an onside kick. It will be a 5-yard penalty.

Pereira, commissioner Roger Goodell and the two heads of the competition committee – Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay and Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher – repeatedly have emphasized that the players sought many of these alterations.

“There were no changes in the injury numbers, but when it comes to player safety, we try to stay proactive,” McKay said.

Clijsters could return

WASHINGTON – Former No. 1-ranked tennis player Kim Clijsters asked the U.S. Open about receiving a wild card for this year’s tournament as part of her comeback plans, The Associated Press learned Tuesday.

The 25-year-old Clijsters, who retired in 2007 and had a child last year, will announce her plans for 2009 on Thursday.

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