For months, coaches have been assured that the new helmet rules won’t be a big deal. As the regular season approaches, more and more coaches are starting to realize that the new helmet rules will be a big deal.
And the coaches are starting to react accordingly.
“I’m waiting to get the rule myself written down,” Washington coach Jay Gruden said. “I’m waiting to have the referees come here and, you know, it’s scary quite frankly. I know that we’re trying to protect the player, take the head out of the game, we understand that, but you do eventually have to make a tackle somehow and these guys are in some unique awkward positions from time to time, everything is not a perfectly formed tackle. Sometimes you’re going to be out of position and I just hope these penalties don’t cost people games and whatever but we’re also trying to keep guys safe, I understand that, but we just need a clear-cut rule defined, help so everybody understands what’s going on.”
But there are clear-cut, defined rules, and they have been written down for months. Even though coaches apparently have heard privately that the rules won’t be enforced as written, Thursday night’s Hall of Fame game featured the rules being enforced, you guessed it, as written.
The problem is that the rules as written aren’t practical. When making a tackle, a defender won’t be running belly- or crotch-first into the player with the ball. The defender will try to get low, lower than the player with the ball. And the player with the ball will try to fend off the tackle, often by trying to get even lower.
The end result, in many cases, will be a collision of helmets, triggering a violation of the rule that prohibits a player from lowering his helmet and initiating contact. Elsewhere, when players are competing for the same chunk of space with the ball in the air, a defensive player may inadvertently ram, butt, or spear an opponent with any portion of the helmet as their bodies collide. Since the exception to this expansion of the unnecessary roughness rule encompasses only incidental helmet contact associated with a conventional blocking or tackling maneuver, any other maneuvers on the field that result in inadvertent ramming or butting or spearing with any portion of the helmet will become unnecessary roughness.
So, yes, this one is poised to become a mess, with every player attempting to lower his pad level relative to an opponent risking a penalty — and with the game potentially moving toward a blend of flag football and sumo wrestling.