Cleat Geeks

No More Banging Heads In The NFL

The NFL has a new helmet rule just as the new season is weeks from starting. The new rule reads in part, “it is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.” Furthermore, the rule applies to all players and contact is not restricted to a person’s neck or head area, lowering the head and initiating contact to a person’s torso, hips or lower body is also a penalty. The penalty will be a loss of 15 yards and if the defense commits a foul, it will result in an automatic first down.

Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said that this new rule will cost people ‘jobs.’ The preseason is officially over and the new season started on Thursday. One of the big questions facing the NFL is how will they enforce these new rules if you are wearing a zebra stripe uniform. “It’s still a work in progress because officials need to learn to instinctively read and react to this type of hit that they’ve never looked at before as a foul,” says recently retired referee Terry McAulay, now an analyst for NBC. “So there is going to be some learning curve yet to come, but I think they’re in a much better place than they were a week ago.”

In College Football, targeting plays are subject to a booth review and if determined the play was a targeting play, the player involved is ejected and is ineligible for the first half of his teams next game. That begs the question, will fans expect to see the same happen in the NFL? The answer is, it is to a limited extent. If a player is disqualified for initiating helmet contact, Al Riveron and his staff can either affirm or over rule the call on the field from New York.

“These are necessary changes where the rules come in,” says Troy Vincent, the NFL’s football operations chief and one of the hardest hitters in the league when he played defensive back from 1992-2006. “As stewards for the long-term, the well-being of the players comes first.” The big test facing the league is how effectively these new rules will be enforced because if they are not, players will continue to push the rules to its limits. 

From a coaches point of view, using the helmet to tackle has been a part of the process, but that has changed to the point where the consequences have been far-reaching. New Titans head coach Mike Vrabel, who played linebacker with the Patriots narrated a video on how to tackle and yet his team was the most penalized in the preseason. “It’s frustrating because I’m not doing a good enough job explaining to them what they’re calling,” Vrabel said during training camp. “I think they look at me like I’m nuts when I say, ‘This is what they’re looking for. This is what they’re calling.”

Image result for penalty flag

The main issue from the players standpoint is that they have been taught to tackle and hit ball handlers a certain way for almost as long as they have played football. Will there be growing pains in adjusting to the new NFL era in playing defense, meaning will star players like Richard Sherman have a game or two where he gets ejected? NFL players may eventually adjust to what the league and its disciplinarians are going to look at, but the first couple weeks of the new season it will be hard to watch for some NFL fans, especially the ones who grew up watching the game before the turn of the century. The link between football activities and CTE has been well established more recently, but it begs the question, how much can the league really do to make the game safe from injuries?

It comes down to when you decide to play a sport that is the collision of all collision sports, shouldn’t anyone wanting to play the game know what they are signing up for? It’s great that the league is focusing more on safety, but one troubling trend that has happened are retirements from players who have yet to reach 30 years of age. In most sports while in your late twenties, you are deemed to be in the prime of your career, yet in the NFL, 30 is the new 40 or 45.

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