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Originally published Friday, April 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Huskies adjust to new rules

To those not in the know, it almost seemed like officious officiating. Who calls a sideline warning in a spring-practice scrimmage? But the whistle, which...

Seattle Times staff reporter

To those not in the know, it almost seemed like officious officiating.

Who calls a sideline warning in a spring-practice scrimmage?

But the whistle, which arrived early in Washington's scrimmage last Saturday, came with the blessing of Huskies coaches, whose many goals for spring practice include getting players acquainted with some new rules taking effect next season.

Among the changes: Sideline infractions, called when coaches or players creep onto the field during a game, now carry an automatic penalty of 5 yards for the first two flags, and 15 for subsequent offenses.

"We are always playing the 'stay behind a certain coach' game now in practice," said quarterback Jake Locker. "We've got to work on that. It's kind of tough because that's a judgment call on their part. I'm sure at some point in any game someone is going to be over the line, so you just don't want to be across the white line at the wrong time."

That's just one of about 10 rules changes recently approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Committee.

Washington coach Tyrone Willingham said Thursday one that could have made a big difference in Washington's 2007 season is a reinterpretation of rules regarding quarterbacks throwing passes beyond the line of scrimmage.

Willingham said the rule now reads that all of the body has to be clearly over the line for a pass to be illegal, not just part. He pointed out that could have changed the tenor of UW's season-ending loss at Hawaii when Locker was called for an illegal forward pass after a late third-down completion that moved the Huskies inside the Hawaii 30-yard line. After the play was reviewed and it was determined at least part of Locker's body was over the line, UW was forced to punt, setting up Hawaii's drive for a winning touchdown.

"That would have made a huge difference," Willingham said.

The change causing a lot of work in practice is some tinkering with play-clock rules. In its latest effort to speed up games, the NCAA instituted a 40-second play clock similar to the NFL. Offenses will have 40 seconds to get off a play after the ball is blown dead. Previously, there was a 25-second clock that started once the ball was marked ready for play.

Locker said the Huskies used the new timing rules for each of their first two scrimmages. "In our first scrimmage, it was a lot faster with the 40-second clock in between," he said. "It seemed like it was a lot quicker than it was last year. So it kind of showed us we need to pick up the tempo of the game a little bit from what we were doing last year."

Other rule changes include:

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• All facemask infractions carry a 15-yard penalty;

• On kickoffs that go out of bounds, the receiving team can ask for the ball to be placed 30 yards upfield;

• The clock will stop when the ball goes out of bounds, but will restart when the official blows his whistle except in the last two minutes of each half. Previously it didn't restart until the ball was snapped;

• "Horse collar" tackles are now illegal.

The NCAA also responded to the New England Patriots taping scandal by making it officially illegal to record "either through audio or video means" signals given by an opposing player, coach or team representative.

Johnson injured

Willingham said Brandon Johnson, who has been working as the No. 1 tailback, injured his left knee and ankle Tuesday and his status for the rest of spring is uncertain. Willingham called him "day to day," but said there's a chance he could be out for the rest of spring, which concludes with the spring game April 26.

With Johnson out, redshirt freshmen Willie Griffin and Brandon Yakaboski will split time with the starting unit.

The injury also opens the door for junior J.R. Hasty. The Bellevue High graduate returned to practice Monday after having been essentially suspended for the first seven practices of the spring along with linebacker E.J. Savannah.

Willingham said Hasty looked good in his first two practices.

"He has jumped himself in a short period of time to right back into it," Willingham said of Hasty.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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