- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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PHOENIX -- Tuesday morning was the annual AFC coaching session during the NFL owners meetings, and present and accounted for was New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
As he does in Foxborough, Mass., home of the Patriots, Belichick controlled the interview. He answered questions he felt comfortable answering and did his best to dismiss questions he didn't want to answer.
Belichick is about winning, not being a good quote. But he was dressed in casual resort attire and appeared relaxed, as all coaches do this time of year.
Naturally, everyone wanted to hear his reaction to the proposed end of the "tuck rule." The Oakland Raiders feel they were robbed in the 2001 playoffs on a tuck rule play involving Tom Brady that was ruled an incomplete pass.
"Whatever the rules are, they are," Belichick said.
Belichick did admit the tuck rule call had a "big role" in the 2001 season. He also said the rule once cost him a game against the New York Jets. The proposed change will be voted on Wednesday.
The next topic was the departure of wide receiver Wes Welker, who turned down the Patriots' two-year, $10 million offer. Welker has been a hot topic at the owners meetings. New England owner Robert Kraft criticized Welker's agents for taking the Denver Broncos' offer, saying he thought the Patriots' offer was better than the one from the Broncos. Welker's agents came back with a statement and disagreed.
Belichick's response to the Welker controversy was, "There are changes every year on every team."
Here are five things we learned at the NFL owners meetings on Tuesday:
1. The "crown of the helmet" rule for running backs met some resistance: Owners had no problem passing two rules to increase player safety. There was a unanimous 32-0 vote to ban the peel-back block, the type of play that injured Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing and cost him most of the 2012 season. Once coaches found out the change didn't affect running plays, they were on board. The peel-back block banned is one in which an offensive player starts within the tackle box, goes outside the box, then comes back and gives a low hit on the side or below the knees of a defender. The league also approved a rule that promotes safety on kicking plays by prohibiting defenses from loading more than six defenders on one side of the snapper.
But coaches had serious questions about outlawing helmet-crown hits by running backs when they are outside the tackle box or more than three yards downfield. "I think it will be a hard rule to officiate," Belichick said. "Let's start with that." That's the problem. A side judge or field judge will have to determine if the runner in the open field was lowering his head to duck away from the hit or putting the crown of the helmet in a dangerous place that could injure the defender. Watching the tape, coaches spotted a lot of gray areas in the potential calls. While everyone is on board with safety, coaches are going to be cautious about rules that might be difficult to legislate. At one point, the competition committee felt it was one vote away from getting the rule approved. It has until Wednesday to get a positive vote during these meetings. The proposal also could be tabled until May.
2. Explaining the Welker signing in Denver: While Welker's departure is going over like a divorce in New England, his addition to the Broncos' offense is being welcomed. Peyton Manning likes it. For John Fox, the Broncos' usually conservative head coach, it's game changing. Fox loves to run the football. He prefers a blocking tight end to a slot wide receiver. The addition of Welker will change that. "This game is about matchups and depends on what matchups you get defensively," Fox said. The Broncos used a lot of two-tight-end sets, Fox said, but Manning is great in three-receiver sets. The Broncos can now use Welker as the inside slot receiver instead of tight end Jacob Tamme, which will allow Manning to open up the offense even more.
3. The Baltimore Ravens aren't giving up on the 3-4 scheme: Let's see. The Ravens lost linebackers Ray Lewis, Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger. They signed defensive linemen Marcus Spears and Chris Canty, who translate more into tackles in 4-3 schemes than they do 3-4 defensive ends. Are the Ravens going to a 4-3? John Harbaugh shot down the notion. He thought Spears and Canty, who grew up together in the 3-4 in Dallas, are good fits. "I like both of those guys personally," Harbaugh said. "I think it's a good fit for the Ravens. They are the kind of people we like to bring into our locker room and into our team. ... They're both great run-stoppers against the zone-stretch scheme, which seems to be en vogue right now. We're going to have to play [the read option] a lot more in our conference."
4. The Cleveland Browns aren't panicking at quarterback -- yet: When the offseason started, many observers thought the Browns might make a big move at quarterback. New president Joe Banner is intrigued by the read option, but Brandon Weeden doesn't fit that style. The Browns hired head coach Rob Chudzinski, who ran plenty of read option when he was Cam Newton's offensive coordinator in Carolina the past two years. There were rumors the team was going to trade for Patriots backup Ryan Mallett. But listening to Chudzinski on Tuesday gave the impression that Weeden isn't going to be pushed aside.
The new coach is in a tough situation, because the CBA rules prevent him from working with players until April, and it's hard to totally overhaul an offense. He said he added 100 plays to the Panthers' playbook with Newton's involvement in the read option. "That was a unique experience," Chudzinski said. Until the Browns get a read-option quarterback, it might be easier to stay with Weeden and Colt McCoy using Cleveland's current playbook. The Browns scheduled a private workout with Geno Smith of West Virginia, but it's not out of the question that the Browns will pass on a quarterback in the first round.
5. Tomlin throws down the gauntlet against the read option: The read option is the buzz of the NFL. Fans love it. Teams such as the Browns would love to be able to draft someone to run it for them. Head coaches are dispatching their defensive assistants to colleges to study it. On Tuesday morning, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin attacked it. "I think the read option is the flavor of the month," he said. "We will see whether it's the flavor of the year. A few years ago, people were talking wildly about the Wildcat. There's less of a discussion now. I think that there are coaches in rooms preparing themselves to defend it, coaches in rooms that are preparing themselves to run it. And I think it is going to sort out on the grass." Tomlin added he was skeptical about the Wildcat, but with the read option he's skeptical because quarterbacks are taking hits.