The NFL Competition Committee voted to allow two defensive players to have radio contact with coaches on the sideline. The rule was rejected last off-season when the proposal only called for one defensive player to have a helmet with a wireless device. The new rule proposal called for two players to be fitted with a wireless device in their helmets, but both helmets cannot be on the field at the same time.
The concern for coaches is, unlike the quarterback position that is always on the field, defensive players are constantly shuffled on and off the field with very little consistency. Some teams like the Chicago Bears keep Brian Urlacher on the field for almost every play on defense will not have a problem. The New England Patriots for one complained the their middle linebacker, Tedy Bruschi, played a little over half the plays on defense this past season. It means that some teams may have to make a decision on the two players they are committed to keep on the field for every defensive snap.
The result of the rule change should quiet the concerns from the Spygate controversy that has continued to linger throughout the league. The wireless device will eliminate the need for signals to call defensive plays and eliminate the complaints of opposing teams stealing signals. The change will also create a new set of problems for defensive coaches to keep one wireless helmet on the field at all times. I’m waiting for the first game where a coach has his two designated defensive players on the field, pulls out the player with the wireless device, and has to pull the other player over to the sidelines and throw a new helmet on his head in time for the next play.
When the Committee met on this issue last year, the rule fell two votes shy. This year the rule squeezed through with a 1-vote margin, bringing the longevity of the rule into question if opinions change during the season. A tally of 24 votes are required to pass a new rule and the issue received a 25-7 margin. Interestingly enough, all seven negative votes came from primarily offensive coaches. The coaches voting against the change are Mike Holmgren (Seattle Seahawks), Jon Gruden (Tampa Bay), Lane Kiffen (Oakland), Andy Reid (Philadelphia), Scott Linehan (St. Louis), Jim Zorn (Washington), and Mike McCarthy (Green Bay).
The Bears will likely designate the wireless helmet for Urlacher, but the second helmet will be a hard decision. The Bears have developed a high intensity defensive line utilizing a constant rotation of three defensive ends and a hand full of tackles. The same can be said for the safety positions that are using a round robin until a clear solution is found. If Charles Tillman or Nathan Vasher can bounce back from an injury-riddled season, they may be the top candidates. Due to the unpredictability of every game, the Bears may not be willing to put the other helmet on Lance Briggs. If the defense is getting beat in the passing game and the Bears have to pull the linebackers off the field it creates a liability at the linebacker position.