Because the NFL brought so much attention to its biggest mess this offseason, the other potential controversy hasn’t gotten a lot of attention.
But the new helmet rule has gotten a lot of attention from players and coaches, who seem concerned about the ramifications. In an attempt to stop that controversy, the NFL sent out a “fact sheet” to clarify what the new rule entails.
It draws attention to the fact that, with the preseason starting Thursday with the Hall of Fame game, there’s still plenty of confusion.
What are the specifics of the rule?
Officials have been visiting teams during training camps to educate them about the rule. The league has spent plenty of time on education for the rule, with educational sessions with coaches and webinars and conference calls with all 32 coaching staffs in May. Still, questions remain, so the league put out the fact sheet.
The two main points were the language of the rule and the penalty. The rule is as follows:
“As approved by NFL clubs in March, it is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. Contact does not have to be to an opponent’s head or neck area – lowering the head and initiating contact to an opponent’s torso, hips, and lower body, is also a foul. Violations of the rule will be easier to see and officiate when they occur in open space – as opposed to close line play – but this rule applies anywhere on the field at any time.”
The questions about what would constitute a penalty and what would lead to an ejection have been questioned, and it has even been at the heart of the final first-round holdout, Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith:
Penalties for Violation: Loss of 15 yards. If the foul is by the defense, it is also an automatic first down. The player may also be ejected. Ejection standards:
1. Player lowers his helmet to establish a linear body posture prior to initiating and making contact with the helmet.
2. Unobstructed path to his opponent
3. Contact clearly avoidable and player delivering the blow had other options
Players, coaches confused about new rule
Even though the league has tried to teach players and coaches what the rule is, it’s not going over well. San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said about the rule, “It’s going to be a disaster.”
It’s ridiculous,” Sherman told USA Today. “They’ll see how ridiculous it is, once they make the refs call it. It’s going to be worse than holding, worse than the catch rule. On a good form tackle, guys will lead with their shoulder pads, but you bring your head.”
It’s not just players who are worried.
“It’s going to be an extremely hard play to officiate, other than the super obvious,” Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The fact sheet might have come out because Philadelphia Eagles players complained about conflicting messages surrounding the rule. Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham told ESPN in the meeting with officials, which took almost an hour, some of the now illegal hits looked like routine tackles.
“We were trying to ask questions to get a better understanding, and yet they couldn’t really give us an answer,” linebacker Nigel Bradham said, according to Tim McManus of ESPN. “They couldn’t give us what we were looking for.”
Will the rule be a hindrance to the games?
The rule has a chance to slow down games, as officials review if hits are worthy of an ejection, and change the way defensive players have to play. The rule was put in for player safety, and it’s hard to criticize the NFL for that, but it might be a problem during games this season. We’ll see.
Until then the NFL will do its best to educate everyone about what the new rule consists of.
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