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NFL rules guru Pereira sounds off on rule changes while in Albuquerque

Mike Pereira would like it if he weren’t mistaken so often with Barry Weiss – host of the A&E show “Storage Wars” and another guy with wavy gray hair and black-rimmed glasses.

And, frankly, the 68-year-old Californian would like to be known for more than he correctly is – the guy who tells us “what is a catch and what isn’t” on NFL Sundays.

It’s a big reason he made his way last week to Albuquerque in his role as president of the “Battlefields2Ballfields” foundation, which is helping military veterans get into sports officiating. Pereira described it as a legacy-defining mission for what he hopes will be the latter third of his life.

But as long as he is Fox TV’s go-to guy on NFL rules and officiating – and the league made news on rules and officiating this week – as Joe Buck might say, let’s call Mike in again.

To be clear, the former NFL official and later the head of the league’s officials believes in the league’s direction with its rule changes, particularly as they impact players’ safety.

“I’m convinced that (the NFL game) is safer than it’s ever been,” he told the Journal on Thursday at the offices of the New Mexico Activities Association.

But Pereira believes one such newly adopted rule has gone too far.

The league has passed a new rule for this season that says any player who initiates contact with his helmet is subject to ejection after an in-game video review in New York.

A foul can be called regardless of where on the body – not just the head or neck area – that one player hits another with his helmet. The rule is not position-specific. Offensive players can be liable as much as defensive players, and linemen as much as players on the perimeter.

That, Pereira told the Journal, “makes it impossible to officiate. … It’s going to be officiated so inconsistently that it’s going to create more problems than it’s going to help.

“Listen, a pulling guard lowering his head and blowing up a corner(back) with the crown of his head? I get that. A runner in a close line play at the 1-yard line trying to score (and) being forced to keep his head up against a big lineman? It’s not going to happen. And then of course the down linemen? … I’m getting a bit concerned, in my own personal opinion right now, that we’re going a bit too far.”

Another rule change addresses kickoffs, which statistically are the most dangerous plays in pro football by far. The goal is somehow to keep them exciting, and yet safer.

Players on the kickoff team now can’t get a running start with the kick. Eight of the return team’s 11 players must start out in a 15-yard zone near midfield, forcing them to run down the field alongside the coverage players, much like on punts.

Wedge blocks – two blockers teaming up on the same player – will also be banned. Any kick that hits the ground in the end zone will be an automatic touchback.

The new rules will be re-evaluated in 2019 to determine their effectiveness, but the league doesn’t want to eliminate kickoffs altogether.

Neither does Pereira.

“You could even make it safer now by putting more (receiving team members) up front closer, making the box not 15 yards but 10, which essentially is what it used to be.

“So I think the most interesting aspect that I can’t wait to see is, will there be more returns from this? Will the receivers now who catch the ball four yards deep in the end zone, knowing that the kicking team didn’t get a running start, be more inclined to return it?

“But in the end (the league is) going to look at number of returns, drive starts and number of concussions on kickoffs. And if more drives start beyond the 23-yard line and the number of concussions goes down and the returns go up, they’ll think it’s fantastic. Which I would agree.

“But if the number of concussions goes up again, and the drive start is not affected, I think the kickoff goes away.”

And about the aforementioned, much cussed and discussed catch rule? In March, an effort to clean that up also was passed.

Under the new language, establishing a catch would require control, two feet (or another body part) in bounds and a football move. The “surviving the ground” element, an excruciating sticking point on some of the league’s most notable interpretations of the rule, no longer applies.

“I think the rewrite is good,” Pereira said. “They basically cleaned it up by saying a ‘football move’ trumps going to the ground. So if you’re on the way to the ground and you make a football move of reaching out or lunging or whatever, or turning, then you completed the catch. And if the ball comes out, then it’s either a fumble if you weren’t touched, or down by contact if you were.”

Pereira noted that with the rewrite, the notable Dez Bryant “no-catch” in a 2014 playoff game in Green Bay would now be a catch, as would one by Pittsburgh’s Jesse James last year.

“So I think it’s clear. … It’s clear in my mind, but then again it was clear in my mind last year before the season started too.”