Plugged in? Defenses could get radio headsets
By Len Pasquarelli

Like their offensive counterparts, NFL defenses could be wired in 2006.

As part of its report to owners during next week's annual NFL meeting in Orlando, Fla., the influential competition committee will propose that teams be permitted to install a radio headset into the helmet of one defensive player. The apparatus would be similar to the ones inside the helmets of quarterbacks and would provide coaches an opportunity to communicate with the defense without using hand signals.

Several defensive coaches, including a few prominent coordinators, have lobbied the league for the past few years to permit headsets for the helmet of at least one defensive player. Those coaches contended that the offense has an unfair advantage because of the quarterback headsets. The competition committee finally agreed that the issue is worthy of consideration.

Atlanta Falcons team president Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee, acknowledged Tuesday there is some evidence that opposition coaches have been able to decipher the manual signals used by defensive coordinators to set their various schemes.

"Let's just assume they're borrowing the [hand] signals," McKay said.

After experimenting with helmet radios during preseason play for a year, the NFL implemented them for regular-season games in 1994. Since that time, the technology has made the headsets increasingly reliable.

The proposal that will be presented to NFL owners next week would permit each team to designate one defensive player per game to wear a headset. The defensive player could be from any position, although the assumption is that most teams would designate a linebacker.

When the designated player is off the field, the headset cannot be transferred to another defender. And if the player is injured and forced from the game, the team would lose the use of the headset. "It basically would end the communication," McKay said.

McKay declined to say of the competition committee will present the proposal with its recommendation. But since the proposal originated with the committee, it almost certainly has its approval, and that usually carries weight with the owners. As with any rules change, the proposal requires a three-quarters vote of the membership or the support of 24 of 32 owners to be approved.