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New helmet-use rule is more narrow, limited than believed


The Commissioner’s traditional end-of-meetings press conference quickly morphed into a panel discussion, with a variety of coaches, executives, and officials explaining to the media (and, necessarily, to everyone else) the ins-and-outs of the new rule regarding the use of the helmet.

While Falcons president Rich McKay acknowledged that the new rule is a “pretty major change,” the new rule is much narrower and limited than many believe.

The new rule prohibits ball carriers and defensive players from initiating contact in the open field with the crown of the helmet. The crown, as explained by Rams coach Jeff Fisher, is the top of the helmet. The facemask and hairline of the helmet may still be used to initiate contact.

Fisher emphasized that ball carriers will be permitted to protect themselves, by dropping their pads and dipping their helmets. A foul arises only if the top of the helmet is used to ram the opponent.

In that way, the new rule is an extension of the rule against spearing, which in NFL parlance means hitting a player who is on the ground with the crown (top) of the helmet.

Also, the blow with the top of the helmet must be “forcible,” a know-it-when-you-see-it standard that could potentially cause reasonable minds to differ. As a result, the decision will be treated as a judgment call, not subject to replay review.

These types of hits are not rare. The league office studied every game during two weeks of the 2012 season -- Week 10 and Week 16 -- and determined that 11 total hits during those 32 games would have drawn flags. To the extent those numbers can be extrapolated, that’s one flag for illegal use of the crown of the helmet in the open field every three games.

McKay explained that the league hopes the new rule will trickle down to the lower levels of the sport, like other safety-related changes. McKay specifically pointed to the adoption of the horse-collar rule at the college and high school level.

So it’s not as bad as some think, and anyone who still doesn’t like it has plenty of time to work through the various stages of grief and arrive at acceptance before the Cowboys and Dolphins suit up in early August for the Hall of Fame game.