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Suspensions likely for illegal hits

The NFL will be more aggressive in suspending players next season for illegal hits, and also could make changes to instant replay and kickoffs.

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.

No suspensions were handed down in 2010 even after the NFL's crackdown on such hits, in part because "we were operating under the principle unless you have given sufficient advance notice of what the results could be, you need to be more lenient," Anderson said.

"Now that the notice has been given, players and coaches and clubs are very aware of what the emphasis is and we won't have that hesitation," Anderson said. "Everyone will be very clearly on notice now that a suspension is very viable for us and we will exercise it when it comes to illegal hits to the head and neck area."

The NFL increased the amount on its fines for such hits last year after a series of fouls on one October weekend. Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison was fined $75,000 for one such tackle, while Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson and New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather were docked $50,000 for hits to defenseless opponents that weekend.

Many more fines were implemented throughout the remainder of last season but no player was suspended, even though suspensions were considered, Anderson said.

"We want to be much more clear on what can be a suspendable incident," Anderson said. "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."

At next week's owners meetings in New Orleans, the 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 5 yards behind the ball, and the committee will suggest outlawing the wedge on kickoffs; all blocking wedges were reduced to two players in 2009.

"The injury rate on kickoffs remains a real concern for us and the players and the coaches' subcommittee," said Falcons president Rich McKay, the chairman of the competition committee. "This is a pretty major change."

So would be making all scoring plays reviewable, another proposal the committee will bring to the owners Monday. This change would empower the replay official to order replays on any touchdowns, field goals, safeties and extra points without the coaches needing to challenge.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league plans to release the regular-season schedule in mid-April, despite the current work stoppage.

"A specific date is not set," Aiello said. "We plan to do what we normally do."

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