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Off the Snap: NFL officials plan to crack down on taunting

A known celebrator, Steve Smith could be subject to penalties with the NFL cracking down. A known celebrator, Steve Smith could be subject to penalties with the NFL cracking down. (Rick Osentoski/AP)

Catching you up on the latest must-read news and analysis from around the web …

• The NFL is tired of players celebrating inappropriately after successful plays and scoring plays, and its officials have evidently been charged with controlling this increasing “menace.” Section 3 of the league’s rule book outlines the behavior that will be penalized, under the banner of Unsportsmanlike Conduct:

“Sack dances, home run swing, incredible hulk; spiking the ball; spinning the ball; throwing or shoving the ball; pointing; pointing the ball; verbal taunting; military salute; standing over an opponent [prolonged and with provocation]; or dancing.”

These moves are also verboten:

“Throat slash; machine-gun salute; sexually suggestive gestures; prolonged gyrations; or stomping on a team logo.”

The updated rule book actually came out before the 2012 season, but as officials are making the rounds to NFL training camps to explain new rules and changes in emphasis like they do every year, they’re telling players that they’ll be watching celebratory behavior more closely.

Some players, like receiver Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers, are working on alterations to their celebrations. Smith considers the ball spin to be his signature move, and he said on Monday that when it comes to avoiding penalties, “We’re working it out.”

It's easy to understand why the NFL is trying to legislate as much violence out of the game as possible, but the limitation of expression seems archaic at best. Football is an emotional game, played under pressurized conditions, and any victory over the inherent difficulties involved will lead to a reaction. "No Fun League," indeed.

• Analyst Mike Mayock of the NFL Network, one of the most highly-respected tape mavens in the business, said yesterday on the NFL Network that St. Louis Rams rookie receiver Tavon Austin might be “the most explosive player I’ve ever seen in my life.”

"He's almost impossible to cover in short spaces,” Mayock said of the former West Virginia star, who the Rams traded up to take with the eighth overall pick. “So the ways you can use [him] are basically only constrained by the imagination of your offensive coordinator."

Austin has the potential to present the kind of matchup nightmares one rarely sees, because he’s just about impossible to catch when he’s free in the open field. For the Rams’ offense to jump it up a few notches and quarterback Sam Bradford to finally realize his potential, Austin will have to play a big role.

"Clearly there's a lot you can do with him,'' Rams coach Jeff Fisher said of Austin soon after he was drafted. "He'll start off as that slot receiver, but it doesn't end there. There's a lot of different things you can do with him. He can stretch the field. The 4.28 [speed] is real. That itself creates some problems. He's got excellent hands. He's quick out of the break. He understands and likes football. He's going to be really fun to watch."

• Speaking of NFC West rookies, one scout recently told Arizona Cardinals broadcaster Ron Wolfley that defensive back Tyrann Mathieu is "pound-for-pound, the best player on the field.” One offensive coach told Wolfley that Mathieu was going to “change the team.”

There’s no question about Mathieu’s raw football ability -- like Austin, Mathieu is a rare athlete who can upend a lot of gameplans if he’s used correctly. But Mathieu lasted until the third round of the 2013 draft because he’s got a long and complicated history of off-field behavior. He was booted off the LSU team before the 2012 season after failing multiple drug tests. But he was able to put himself back in the minds of NFL personnel people when he showed up at the 2013 scouting combine and amazed with a workout that proved to be one of the best that week.

"I didn't have everything together back in college,” Mathieu said at the combine. “I had everything together as far as football, but when it came to my social life, my personal life, I didn't have everything intact. I didn't have my emotions intact. Spiritually, I wasn't intact. Once you take football away, you are able to work on the person. These last six months, that is all I had was Tyrann the person. I attacked the person, I attacked my issues. I think that is why I am here at the combine ... Back when I was the Honey Badger, I didn't have everything intact. Going forward, I am going to focus on being Tyrann Mathieu, and that is the person I want to control right now."

So far, so good. Mathieu has played multiple defensive back roles in Todd Bowles’ defense. We’ll soon see how he’s able to transition to the pros in all sorts of ways.

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