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NFL Gets Head Start On Enforcing New Helmet Rules

Bad news, Philadelphia Eagles fans. You no longer root for the “reigning” Super Bowl champions. You are now fans of the “defending” champion. There is a difference, although it’s basically a matter of semantics.

And all it took to change the characterization was the kickoff of the NFL’s Hall of Fame preseason game Thursday between the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears in Canton, Ohio. The 2018 season is now underway and the chase to declaw the Eagles is on.

Unless you were Joe Flacco, now in big battle with rookie Lamar Jackson for his job as the Ravens quarterback, the game likely had no real implications.

Helmet hits

Joe Robbins / Getty

But what made it fascinating to watch was to see how players and officials would react to the NFL’s new use-of-helmet rules. The now ever-vigilant league, more conscious of safety than before – when men were men, we suppose – wants to make sure its players live to live another life after retirement.

Essentially what happened was, the NFL drew up a new set of stricter rules in March to discourage the dangerous act of players on both sides goring opponents head first. There will now be penalties assessed if it happens.

Every NFL team began teaching and stressing the new mandated techniques during mini camps. And every team will eventually hear a lecture from a team of officials sent to their training camps. The officials will also show videos, broken down by position, to help illustrate their talking points.

“You can just see with the communication from the NFL officiating department, a number of emails, particularly the video that’s been moving around the league,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy told Packers.com. “We’ve already taken a lap through it. We have a segment of our team meeting, game education, that we’ve been able to cover most of it so far.”

There seems to be no debate that something needed to be done to try and lessen the concussions and more serious injuries that often result from players colliding like rams on a Bavarian mountain.

But the problem, at least initially, is that players and officials may have different interpretations of what is allowed and what isn’t. For instance, the league has already made it clear that a player can direct his head in any way needed to protect himself.

And there will always be the issue of how the players will manage to quell the desire for violent contact likely imbedded in their DNA.

According to the NFL, a player can be penalized 15 yards or ejected for doing any of the following three things:

  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.

You can probably understand how the legislation’s formal wording might look and sound confusing,

“I think clearly you have to remember what we’re trying to accomplish here,” McCarthy said. “It’s a number of things. No. 1, the number of egregious hits in the league last year; the goal is clearly to get those out of the game. The helmet is not a weapon.

“So it’s really, from my viewpoint, the emphasizing the proper tackling techniques and this and that. Once again, I know history will tell you in my time going back through all the rule changes – if we can get it early enough as coaches and get it a part of our training, we’ll achieve the goal.”

A casual fan may have noticed a few calls during Thursday’s game that appeared questionable, certainly unexpected. The first 15-yard penalty took less than five minutes to call when Ravens linebacker Patrick Onwuasor was flagged for his hit on the Bears Benny Cunningham.

But look, the head is connected to the neck, which is hinged to the shoulders, which are protected by pads. How, in the split second prior to contact, will officials be able to determine when leading with the shoulder turns into intent to maim with the head.

But the bigger issue seems to be how the players will make the adjustment to eliminate misinterpretation.

Linemen have already spent the last three seasons trying to adjust to new directives concerning the hands-to-face rule. Now any contact to the face is to be called a penalty.

As you might expect, a number of defenders are not pleased with the new rules. Safety Richard Sherman, now with the 49ers, told the Boston Globe he considered them “ridiculous.” Josh Norman of the Redskins wondered to the Globe how guys like him “are going to play the game.”

Here seems to the bottom line:

“Anything with the helmet this year, they’re not gonna let that go,” NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth said during the game.

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