Ask Micah Hyde about the NFL’s new rules on illegal helmet contact and he knows exactly what you mean.
“Where the offensive player goes to duck his head and we go into tackle and it’s an automatic flag. You talking about that rule?” Hyde said.
That’s not really the rule. That’s the way many NFL defensive players see the rule.
The NFL will throw 15 yard penalties for any player who lowers his head, initiates and then makes contact with the head.
The goal is to motivate players to keep their eyes up while tackling and prevent serious head and neck injuries.
It’s easier said than done.
“No guy is going to run in there standing straight up when a guy’s head is down,” Hyde said. “It’s a bang-bang play. You can’t really change your position on it.”
The fear from players is more penalties that lead to longer games. Even more so, the players fear this:
“You miss a tackle because you’re worried about how you’re going to hit (a player) versus just going to make a play because you don’t want to get a 15 yard penalty,” Lorenzo Alexander said. “I know my wife doesn’t want to see 26-grand come out of my check. And you just don’t want to hurt your team.”
There has been much complaining from defensive players league wide during the preseason and questioning from fans and media about various penalty calls. Richard Sherman even tweeted the rule should be revoked.
Bills offensive players are encouraged the rule can be an improvement.
“It’s going to be a positive, somewhat, because it makes a player more cautious about, ‘ok, this player is catching a pass across the middle. How should I hit him? How can I just lead with my shoulder and not my head?'” Travaris Cadet said.
“It’s a good thing that they did change it,” Jeremy Kerley said. “Maybe it’ll change some guys’ way they play.”
Hyde doesn’t blame referees. He simply thinks the league has gone too far with the head to head contact rules. Alexander hopes the league can maybe walk back and tighten up some of the wording to limit the amount of hits that result in flags.
“There has to be a distinction from a guy coming in and spearing a guy with his head down and his eyes down,” Alexander said, coming up with a very possible hypothetical. “Versus a guy coming in heads up and hitting a guy with his facemask. You hit him in his chest, but maybe the side of your helmet grazes his head,”
Most players think the rule will make the game safer (emphasis on “er”), but they also think the league must accept there’s a limit to what can be prevented. That’s something many players did the moment they put on a helmet in the NFL.
“I don’t feel safe,” Kerley said. “But, I’m not worried about it.”