In baseball, it’s taking a plunking. In basketball, it’s taking a charge. In soccer, it’s taking a dive. In football, will it become taking a helmet?
As NFL coaches begin to process the realities of the new helmet rule, some may be tempted to instruct players who could be in a position to absorb a lowered helmet to embrace the blow — and the 15 yards of field position that go along with it.
The best example of this potential dynamic comes from Saturday’s Jaguars-Vikings game. Vikings fullback C.J. Ham caught a swing pass and ran toward Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye. Ham lowered his helmet. Bouye got lower, attempting a form tackle that, in the assessment of the officials, resulted in Bouye lowering his helmet and initiating contact with it. Penalty, Jaguars.
Some argued that Ham should have been flagged, too. But Ham didn’t strike Bouye with the lowered helmet. If he had (and if he’d barreled Bouye over and kept running), the play would have come back to the spot of the foul, with 15 yards marched off against Minnesota from that point.
So what if, when two players are now approaching each other like this, a coaches tells one of them to stay upright, attempting to hug the opponent and, if need be, taking a helmet to the gut (or lower) or chest (or higher)? If Bouye had done that on Saturday, the net difference would have been 30 yards of field position, with the foul being on the Vikings not the Jaguars.
It may be much easier said than done, given the potential for injury when struck by the lowered head of a player moving at full speed or close to it. And if enough coaches realize the potential benefit of telling players to take a lowered helmet, there eventually will be no lowered helmets, because players will stop trying to be the low man.
The end result could be more upright arm grabbing, with players keeping their heads up and essentially hugging. But that’s definitely what the league wants as it tries via this new rule to keep the head out of the game. If a player isn’t able to get low and hit an opponent with his face up, the risk of a foul is real. So it may be better to stay higher than lower and to gladly take 15 yards — even if the player who absorbs the blow ends up not being able to get off the field without assistance.