Several new NCAA football rules will be in effect this season.
Two in particular impact play on the field.
The first concerns blocking below the waist. Now the block will be OK if used by stationary players in line play.
The second is an adjustment to the targeting rule. Players that target a defenseless player and hit that player above the shoulders will now be ejected from the game in addition to drawing a 15-yard personal foul penalty.
“It’s not necessarily a new rule about targeting, but it’s an emphasis,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. “And it’s a good thing, it’s about safety. So we’ll have to see how that plays out.”
While coaches and players agree that safety is important and acknowledge that the rules are in place to keep the players healthy, there is some concern about how the rules might be applied during a game.
Potential problems could arise because tackles are made with such speed and force that it can be tough to tell if a player actually broke the rule.
Some tackles that seem OK could get penalized. A defender might hit a receiver in the chest, but in the process of driving through, his helmet moves up and makes contact with the receiver’s head, for example.
Defensive coordinator Mark Banker pointed to difficulties the NFL has had during the preseason in sorting through what should constitute a legal or illegal hit.
Two preseason plays have been under scrutiny. A Miami Dolphins’ tight end suffered a severe knee injury when a defender hit him low on a play that is considered legal, while a Chicago Bears’ player was hit with a fine for lowering his head and hitting a receiver on what looked to many like a clean, but forceful, tackle.
Banker was listening to analysts debate the situation.
“They were saying, ‘Well, what does the defensive player do?’ And that part of it is the part I don’t know,” Banker said. “We understand the rule that you don’t, when you can’t make a play on the ball, just absolutely line the receiver up and hit him above the shoulders. You’ve got to have a good, solid tackle where you’re wrapping up through the guy’s chest and putting him down on the ground.
“You cannot lead with your head. We understand that. But it’s those close proximity plays that I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Banker doesn’t want a situation where his players start to worry about getting flagged for hard hits.
That often leads to the player hesitating instead of simply making a tackle.
“Then all of a sudden the defenders begin to think, stutter their feet on contact, don’t know where to put their eyes, then they drop their head and they’re tackling around the waist somewhere,” Banker said. “And now we’ve got problems from the standpoint of No. 1, missing the tackle, and then also having a problem with possibly having an injury to a defender when he drops his eyes because he’s trying to maybe go low on a guy to hit him.”
The best way to deal with contact rules is to make sure the players know how to tackle the right way.
That means not hitting players above the shoulders and not leading with the head when making a tackle.
Players have to avoid launching themselves at a ball carrier and lowering their head or leading with the helmet.
“Every time I get to a tackle, I remember to buzz my feet and wrap up instead of coming in for a kill shot, just make the tackle,” OSU linebacker Michael Doctor said. “A tackle is a tackle. You don’t always have to get a kill shot or make a big hit.
“You can make a big hit by making a perfect form tackle.”
Even a clean tackle could draw a flag if it’s a big one.
Doctor said the players can’t worry about the officials.
“That’s always been a concern, how officials see things,” he said. “But they’re going to see what they see and at the end of the day there’s nothing we can do about it. We just have to live with it and play with it.”