As is the case every offseason, the NFL made a few changes to the rules for 2018, but one change in particular is receiving a lot of attention this year because it represents a pretty significant change.
Starting this season, it is a foul "if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent." And that's not just for helmet-to-helmet hits, it's also a foul if a player lowers his head and hits an opponent in the torso, hips or lower body. The rule change also has language allowing for ejections, which are reviewable. A player can be ejected if:
- Player lowers his helmet to establish a linear body posture prior to initiating and making contact with the helmet.
- Unobstructed path to his opponent.
- Contact clearly avoidable and player delivering the blow had other options.
Like all rule changes, this will take some adjustment not just for players, but also the officials calling the game.
"We're going to get better as it goes," said Scott Halverson, an NFL back judge heading into his 16th season as an NFL official. "We'll learn week in and week out from film we get from New York, our games that we work, it'll be constant growth for us as well."
As is the case every year, officials stopped by Seahawks camp to go over new rule changes and points of emphasis with both players and the media.
And while there will be an adjustment period for such a significant rule change, the Seahawks believe they are ahead of the curve in this particular area, having taught shoulder-based, rugby-style tackling for years. Several years ago, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, along with former assistant Rocky Seto, began creating tackling videos they distribute for free online to encourage getting the helmet out of the game at all levels.
"This is a big deal," Carroll said when asked about the new use of helmet rule. "It's a big deal. The game is in transition right now and it's a really important transition. We started transitioning some time ago, really specifically, and fortunately for us it's put us in position where we're OK, we're comfortable with the changes that are coming. There's a couple of particular things that–coaching points–that have come up that the league has generated, that will be points of emphasis for us, and that's about keeping your face up as much as possible and it's just a tremendously clear emphasis of not using the top of your helmet and you're not using your helmet as a weapon.
"That's not new for us at all, but I do think that we can get better at some areas of it and it really has to do with leverage and keeping our face up when we make contact so we stay out of the penalty situation and stay in the safety mode. I think it's a big deal. There was a time, I don't know how many years ago it was, I was fighting it like crazy. I was fighting it just like an old dog. I didn't want to see it coming, didn't want to have it come our way, and I know I transitioned a while back and so as this has been coming to us now, I'm excited about the change for the game."
And despite some concern that has been expressed by people afraid that games will turn into flag-fests that are full of ejections, Carroll doesn't think fans will notice a huge difference.
"You won't see the difference in the game, the fans won't see the difference, the players will feel a difference in time, and I think we'll be able to see a great product," Carroll said. "It's not going to change things drastically at all, but we have to make these adaptations now and so we're making a big deal about it to our players. That's why I don't mind talking to you about it, because I think everybody who has listened to football and interested in football needs to understand that things are changing right now. I think the leadership that came from the league and also from the Player's Association, it was necessary and it was warranted and we're doing the right thing and we're going to figure out how to make this a really good part of the game and it shouldn't even hinder us in any way."
Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright agrees with his coach that this won't be a big change for his team, and that it is a change that will help the game in the long run.
"We've been doing it," Wright said. "It's just something that the league wants to emphasize to protect us, to make sure guys are being safe and to try to reduce concussions.
"Sometimes with the rules, they make stuff harder on us on defense, however, this isn't something we need to fight. It's something that's good for us. Get your head out of the game, keep your head up. I watch a lot of film, and I didn't notice that guys were putting their heads down a lot and leading with their heads, so we've just got to put our shoulders in it and it'll be good."
Fan photos from Day 6 of 2018 Seahawks training camp at Virginia Mason Athletic Center.