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Spring league features new rules

SAN DIEGO — When the fledgling Alliance of American Football held four exhibition games recently in San Antonio, something was missing.

Kickoffs.

“We were all looking around saying, ‘Does anyone miss kickoffs?’ The answer was, no, we did not miss them,” said Mike Pereira, the NFL’s former vice president of officiating who is a consultant for the latest attempt at a spring league.

So, yes, when the eight-team AAF kicks off this weekend, there will be no kickoffs as a nod to player safety and one of many twists to make games faster.

There will be plenty of other differences between the NFL and the AAF, which was founded by Bill Polian, a Hall of Famer and former NFL general manager, and Charlie Ebersol, a longtime TV and film producer.

Among them will be a ninth member of the officiating crew, called a SkyJudge who will be in the press box and can instantly correct “obvious and egregious” officiating errors, like the one that marred the NFC championship game. Overtime will be different, too.

The AAF opens Saturday with the San Diego Fleet visiting the San Antonio Commanders and the Atlanta Legends at the Orlando Apollos. Games continue Sunday with the Memphis Express visiting the Birmingham Iron and the Salt Lake Stallions at the Arizona Hotshots.

Those games will start without kickoffs. There will still be a coin toss, with the winner deciding whether to receive or defer. The team that gets the ball will simply send out its offense to start from its 25.

“The players got used to it very quickly,” Pereira said in a phone interview from his home in Sacramento. “It’s a bit of a timesaver. Our goal is to play in 2 1/2 hours.”

Perhaps the most timely change is the SkyJudge, who is able to use real-time technology to correct clear errors involving player safety anytime during a game and pass interference inside of five minutes left in the fourth quarter.

The SkyJudge was already in place before the non-call late in the NFC championship game that pretty much cost New Orleans a spot in the Super Bowl. NFL officiating chief Al Riveron called Saints coach Sean Payton after the game and admitted the game officials missed the helmet-to-helmet hit and pass interference penalty by Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman.

Pereira said it was modeled in part after the college targeting rule, which allows replay to step in and call targeting even if was not called on field, or take it off if was called but wasn’t not really targeting.

If the SkyJudge gets a quick replay, he could view it before the ball is snapped. They just can’t delay the next snap.

Elsewhere:

n The Cincinnati Bengals liked Zac Taylor the first time they talked to him, but there was one overriding concern when they discussed offering him their head coaching job. He’s 35 with only a few games as a coordinator on his NFL resume.

Would it be too much, too soon, to make him a head coach?

“Our big question was: Is he ready for this opportunity?” player personnel director Duke Tobin said.

Taylor convinced them during their two meetings, and the Bengals introduced him as their 10th head coach on Tuesday.

Having answered the Bengals’ overriding question, Taylor now gets to deal with another, more persistent question that’s confronted all of his predecessors: Can this head coach get the Bengals to a place that none of the others could reach? Or will he run into the same walls?

In Cincinnati, it’s always bigger than the head coach. In a league set up to help struggling teams rise quickly, the Bengals have managed only seven winning seasons in the last 28 years, a reflection on ownership.

Dave Shula, Bruce Coslet, Dick LeBeau and Lewis all came up short during the streak of futility. Lewis finished 0-7, the worst postseason coaching record in NFL history. Now, it’s Taylor’s turn.

n The Los Angeles Rams have plenty of offseason work to do. Thanks to their run to the Super Bowl, they have a relatively short amount of time to do it.

Sean McVay professes to love few things more than his next challenge, and the coach is already hitting the Rams’ offseason tasks with extra motivation from the humbling experience of Los Angeles’ 13-3 loss to the New England Patriots in Atlanta.

“If you can’t handle getting gut-punched and responding, this business probably isn’t for you,” a typically energized McVay said Tuesday at the Rams’ training complex. “That’s the only way that I know how to respond as a coach. I know our coaching staff feels that way. I know our players feel that way, and that’s what’s powerful. … If things are always easy, you never get a chance to get tested and find out.”

McVay said he isn’t ready for a vacation, and he already has a lengthy to-do list.

The Rams must replace quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor, who took over as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday.

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