PHILADELPHIA — A presentation this week by NFL referees to the Philadelphia Eagles on the new helmet rule caused frustration among the players, according to team members, and created further confusion for some about what is expected of them.
“We were trying to ask questions to get a better understanding, and yet they couldn’t really give us an answer,” linebacker Nigel Bradham said. “They couldn’t give us what we were looking for.”
Under the new rule, a player will be penalized 15 yards and potentially fined or ejected for lowering his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.
During the presentation, which lasted close to an hour according to Bradham, players were shown clips of what are now considered illegal hits — some of which appeared to them as routine tackles.
Seeking further clarification during the Q&A that followed, the players showed the presenters a video of safety Malcolm Jenkins‘ hit on wide receiver Brandin Cooks during Super Bowl that knocked Cooks out of the game. The refs were split on whether it would now be considered an illegal hit.
“I’m going to make that play 10 times out of 10. If it’s a flag, it’s a flag,” Jenkins said after practice Sunday, adding that he doesn’t believe that hit would lead to an ejection under the current policy. “You can’t slow yourself down thinking about rules in a split second. The game happens really, really fast, faster than the rules, I think, take account for, but I won’t let it affect the way I play.”
The rule applies to not only tacklers but linemen and ball carriers as well. The concern for running backs is that they are going to have to retrain themselves after years of attacking a certain way.
“It’s going to take a different approach to learn as individuals how to keep our head up and see what we’re doing,” Matt Jones, a 6-foot-2, 239-pound power back said. “But it’s going to be kind of hard because we’re taught to run through guys and put our helmet where their number is at. It’s like if it’s a third-and-1 and you have to have it, and you meet in the hole, there’s no way possible you’re not going to meet head-on-head and helmet-on-helmet.”
The meeting between the Eagles and refs was described as spirited, with the players expressing consternation over the new rule.
“[The refs] were kind of like, ‘Hey, we didn’t make the rules.’ Because I think guys were kind of frustrated,” running back Wendell Smallwood said. “Most of the defense was like, ‘Man, how are we supposed to tackle?’ They were frustrated.”
Added Jones: “It was definitely going back and forth. ‘We’re running backs, and we can’t do that?’ And, ‘We’re a defense; how are supposed to tackle?’ We didn’t get an answer we wanted. We just have to abide by the rules and keep from getting fined and ejected.”
The refs told the players that they watched six games and found only three instances where the new rule would come into play. Still, there is concern from some players that the policy will both slow the game down and hit them in the pocket.
Coach Doug Pederson said his staff will stress the points of emphasis in the new rule during nightly meetings and on the practice field this summer and feels he has a handle on what is being asked by the league.
“It’s been well communicated to us, and it’s our job to communicate to our players these rules,” he said.