PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – Next season Steelers linebacker James Harrison might want to think of changing the way he plays football after the NFL announced they will be more aggressive in suspending players for illegal hits.

Ray Anderson, the league’s chief disciplinarian, said Wednesday that repeat offenders or players committing flagrant illegal hits will have a much greater chance of being suspended during the 2011 season.

Last season, the NFL didn’t suspended any players, but they increased the amount of fines for illegal hits. Anderson said last season the league operated “under the principle, unless you have given sufficient advance notice of what the results could be, you need to be more lenient.”

But this season the players have been put on notice that the league is serious about illegal hits.

Anderson said “suspension are very viable for us and we will exercise it … when it comes to illegal hits to the head and neck area and to defenseless players.”

“We want to be much more clear on what can be a suspendable incident. The emphasis is on head and neck hits and what a defenseless player is. And we will work hard that people understand what is a repeat offender and what is a flagrant foul.”

Harrison and other players that received fines last season will come under more scrutiny for suspensions because the league will be taking two years worth of plays to determine a repeat offender.

The NFL is also expanding the rules defining a defenseless player. The rules now will include eight categories:

  • A quarterback in the act of throwing;
  • A receiver trying to catch a pass;
  • A runner already in the grasp of tacklers and having his forward progress stopped;
  • A player fielding a punt or a kickoff;
  • A kicker or punter during the kick;
  • A quarterback at any time after change of possession;
  • A receiver who receives a blind-side block;
  • A player already on the ground.

Another area of the game the league is looking at changing next season is on kickoffs.

The NFL’s competition committee will propose moving the kickoff up to the 35 yard-line, and bringing a touchback out to the 25. There would be no changes for touchbacks on any other plays, with the ball coming out to the 20.

No player other than the kicker would be allowed to line up more than five yards behind the ball, and the committee will suggest outlawing the wedge on kickoffs; all blocking wedges were.

The committee will also look to make all scoring plays reviewable by replay officials, which would allow coaches to save a challenge.

Pittsburgh Steelers
James Harrison

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