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Ravens throw flag on NFL's 5-yard 'chuck' rule

THE BALTIMORE SUN

There were plenty of moans and groans coming from Ravens players and coaches yesterday about a rule that has not changed.

The NFL is not modifying its 5-yard "chuck" rule that prohibits defenders from making contact with eligible receivers beyond 5 yards from the line of scrimmage, but there will be heavy emphasis on its enforcement this year.

Cornerback Gary Baxter called this rededication by officials something that "doesn't make any sense."

Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan predicted flags are going to be flying everywhere if referees call the game the way they are being instructed to by the NFL.

Even coach Brian Billick, thought to be more offensive-minded, said he was concerned about how this will affect his team.

At least one player, though, thinks some good can come out of it. Not surprisingly, he is part of the group that stands to benefit the most.

"As a receiver, we love it," Kevin Johnson said. "We're happy about it. It's an offensive game in the NFL, so we are going to try and make the most of it."

Four NFL game officials addressed the Ravens last night on the importance of not making contact with receivers after 5 yards, and also went over a number of minor rule changes to be implemented this year.

The discussion left many players and coaches concerned that the Ravens' physical play on defense will be harmed if the league enforces the "chuck" rule closely.

The NFL's competition committee, of which Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is a member, made the recommendation with hopes that receivers will have less resistance running down the field, and in turn, get more scoring chances.

"They want to put the emphasis back on the receiver to run his routes unrestricted," said Undrey Wash, a fifth-year umpire.

That means cracking down on bigger cornerbacks and linebackers holding, pushing and jabbing receivers in the chest to impede deeper routes.

Baxter, at 6 feet 2, 204 pounds, and fellow starter Chris McAlister (6-1, 206) form one of the bigger and more physical cornerback tandems in the league. Both like to put their hands on receivers and should still have the chance to do so, but without the leeway down the field. The Ravens do not plan on adapting their defensive coverages, Nolan said.

"We have the physical capabilities to do it," Billick said. "That's why you have heard me all camp long [say] 'cover with your legs.'

"Depending on the degree to which the officials indeed are going to call this - that's the key between now and the beginning of the season. I'm not sure if the officials know that specifically yet; the league doesn't. ... If they call it to the degree to which they are articulating it now, then this is going to become nothing but a cover-2 league because you're not going to be able to play any man. But we'll see."

With scoring on the decline in the past 10 years, penalties for illegal contact (the call for hitting a receiver after 5 yards) have fluctuated from a high of 117 in 1994 to a low of 48 in 1997 during that span.

Seventy-nine illegal contact penalties were called last year, just the 13th-most called penalty.

Defensive-holding penalties, however, reached 188 last season, the second-highest total in the past 10 years. It was the sixth-most called penalty.

The prevailing thought is that defenders, especially in secondaries like those of the New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins or Philadelphia Eagles, are getting away with too much. The Patriots were singled out last year after replays showed game officials clearly missed a number of instances where New England's linebackers and cornerbacks were grabbing Indianapolis Colts receivers well after 5 yards during the AFC championship game.

It happened twice during the Colts' second-to-last drive, with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter. Indianapolis turned the ball over on downs trailing by 7 points.

"Unfortunately, the league is making it so the DB can't really play defense," Baxter said. "They want to see touchdowns. I think it's going to be harder for the cornerbacks, and I think the cornerbacks should be paid more money just for the fact this new rule is in."

All is not lost for defensive players. The emphasis on the "chuck" rule should also force officials to be more cognizant of offensive pass-interference calls as well.

That is something Baxter is banking on.

"If they are going to make a rule where we can't push them or touch them down the field, then they really need to look into the fact that when the receivers come out of the break, they push us to create separation and call that a flag," Baxter said.

Camp update

Thumbs up: Ed Reed and undrafted rookie linebacker Brandon Barnes had the strongest days of any players yesterday. Reed had an interception and was pretty close to another one, and Barnes dealt Musa Smith the first hard hit during live action. Barnes also stopped Smith a yard short of the end zone later in the practice. ... Travis Taylor made the catch of training camp so far, a 20-yarder from Kyle Boller in the back of the end zone over Lamont Brightful.

Thumbs down: Kordell Stewart fumbled another snap, this time on his first play from scrimmage. ... The ball was stripped from Randy Hymes after a 2-yard completion. ... Boller threw an interception while rolling to his right.

Quotable: "People think it's a defensive rule, but it's going to affect both sides of the ball. It's going to be a lot of great plays by tight ends, running backs and receivers that are going to be called back because of offensive pass interference." - Tight end Terry Jones on the emphasis on the 5-yard chuck rule

Injuries: OLB Peter Boulware (knee), QB Anthony Wright (shoulder), RB B.J. Sams (thumb), CB Fred Weary and TE Trent Smith (leg) did not practice. ILB Ed Hartwell (quadriceps) and ILB Bart Scott (knee) were limited. Weary and Smith are day-to-day. CB Chris McAlister (contract dispute) is not in attendance.

Today's schedule: The morning practice is at the Ravens' new training facility and is closed to the public. There is a full-squad scrimmage at McDaniel's Bair Stadium at 6 p.m. Coach Brian Billick will answer questions from fans at 5:30 p.m.

Countdown to season opener: 37 days.

- Brent Jones

Ravens training camp

When: Through Aug. 24

Where: McDaniel College

Admission: Free

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