There is an overwhelming consensus among virtually everyone in pro football that doing as much as possible to protect players from head injuries is a good thing. Toward that end, the recent adoption of a new helmet rule is a welcome measure.
Making sure the game doesn’t undergo a fundamental change as a result of players no longer being allowed to lower their heads and initiate contact with the helmet? That’s the tricky part.
“I think it’s a good thing taking the head out of it,” linebacker Mark Herzlich said.
But even the eight-year veteran wonders just how this will work. Case in point: During Wednesday’s practice, he delivered a hit to wide receiver Kalif Raymond during an 11-on-11 drill and knocked the receiver to the ground. Would it have been called a penalty under the new rule?
“I don’t think so, but I don’t know,” he said. “Honestly, I could see either way. I would hate it [if it was a penalty], because it would hurt the team.”
A crew of NFL officials is working with the Giants this week to help explain the new helmet rule, as well as other points of emphasis. And while several players around the league have raised questions about how the new measure will be enforced and whether there will be too many adverse judgment calls, referee Jerome Boger believes the players will adjust.
“It’s an adjustment, but the way I see it, these guys are professional athletes, and they’ve shown they can make some changes midstream,” Boger said at the Giants’ Quest Diagnostics Center after a video presentation to the media explaining the new rules. “If you tell them beforehand, they can do it.”
Boger said he doesn’t believe it will be difficult to officiate the new rule.
“We’ll be looking for different attributes that will jump out to us as officials,” he said. “One is lowering the head in a linear position. [The NFL] wants players to see what they tackle. So if you see what you tackle, it eliminates the problem. When we as officials see the head go down, our antennas are going to go up.”
Boger pointed to the play last season on which Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered temporary paralysis; he led with his head and suffered a serious neck injury.
“He wanted to make a punishing tackle, but his tackling posture – looking at the ground,” Boger said. “They want to eliminate that.”
The increased emphasis on making the game safer is all well and good, but there’s no question it’s asking a lot from players to change technique they’ve been using for years. That’s the concern of middle linebacker Alec Ogletree, who knows it’s impossible to completely avoid using his helmet when making contact with opponents.
“It’s kind of tough for us to take our heads out of it as much as possible,” he said. “I understand why they are trying to do it, but at the same time, it’s definitely something I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of impact it has. You have to adjust as much as you can.”
The problem for Ogletree: Plays happen so fast and split-second decisions are often the difference between incurring a penalty and a potential ejection for lowering the helmet.
“It’s going to be tough for us, for sure,” he said. “Things just happen on the field, and you try to do your job as well as you can and limit the mistakes. We’re going to try our best to adjust to fit the situation.”
One player who’s all in favor of the new rule is left tackle Nate Solder.
“For me personally, it’s a good thing, because there are defensive ends that come up the field and just lower their heads,” he said.
There’s still plenty of confusion about the new rule, but Boger believes officiating it won’t be as hard as some players believe.
“It’s a change with how people have been doing it since Day 1,” he said, “but it’s protecting the future of the athletes and the future of the game.”