MANKATO, Minn. — The NFL has used Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson prominently in its videos to demonstrate the new league rule regarding hits using the crown of the helmet.
In a video shown to on-field officials, players and coaches as a teaching tool, there is Peterson running against the Chicago Bears in a game last season, lining up his target and lowering his head to drive through the defender. It’s the exact type of hit — along with another showing Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson leveling a Philadelphia Eagles’ defender — the league is hoping to eradicate this season.
But the NFL is also not expecting to see many violations regarding the new rule, which has come under scrutiny, particularly from running backs around the league. A group of officials met with media at Minnesota’s training camp Monday to highlight the league’s new rules and what can be expected when the season begins.
“They’re not that many of them, so they don’t expect a big rash of these things, particularly now that it’s a rule,” side judge Laird Hayes told reporters. “So, I just think it’s one of those they’re adding to those incidents where they just want to protect these guys as much as they can.”
Peterson said last week he is OK with the new rule after coming to a better understanding to what the league is trying to legislate. The rule applies to offensive and defensive players outside of the tackle box.
“I thought it was pointed just at the running backs and I thought that was wrong, way wrong,” Peterson said last week. “But once I got to understanding, in the big picture, you hear about a lot of guys injuring themselves with their head down; not a lot of running backs, but defensive guys. For the sport and the health of the players, the rule was put in play. And once I found out that it involves all players, I was cool with it.”
Players will now draw a 15-yard penalty for leading with the crown of their helmet in cases where players are more than three yards downfield or outside of the tackle box. Offensive and defensive players are both subject to the penalty and if both occur on the same play, each will be penalized.
Officials will be looking for three main points when considering the rule: whether a player is outside of the tackle box, lines up his opponent for the hit and then drops his head looking to make contact with the crown of the helmet. The league has decided such plays won’t be penalized for players coming at an angle to initiate contact.
“They’re looking for that obvious play out in the open where a guy, it’s just him and that defender and he lowers that head,” umpire Roy Ellison said.
The NFL has also eliminated the basis of the infamous “Tuck Rule” where a quarterback was still considered to be in his throwing motion until tucking the ball away against his body. Now, officials will be forced to make more of a judgment call for when the throwing motion has ended and the quarterback has fumbled.
Originally the NFL tried to simplify the ruling by saying a quarterback had to fully tuck the ball away before a fumble was declared.
“As soon as the quarterback starts to bring, in the referee’s judgment starts to bring it back in, it’s going to be a fumble, play it as a fumble and it kind of evolved to this because a few years ago, the referees were told play everything as a fumble,” Hayes said. “Replay can always fix that.”
The NFL has also changed replay rules this season to still give teams the benefit of replay even though a coach might throw a challenge flag on unchallenged plays, such as scoring plays and turnovers. Last year, Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz cost his team for throwing a flag on a scoring play.
In the past, even though review might have conclusively overturned the play, teams were penalized and didn’t get the benefit of replay because of the illegal challenge. Now, teams will be penalized, but a review will still take place and the ruling from the review will be enforced.
“Really there’s no excuse, unless (coaches) kind of forget and get caught up in the moment, for them to throw it because we’ll walk them through that,” Hayes said. “We don’t want them to make a mistake.”
Other changes included having six defenders or more on one side during field goals and point-after attempts, the long snapper is now considered a defenseless player until he becomes an active blocker and outlawing peel-back blocks completely from the game, where an offensive player hits a defender below the waist.
The league has also mandated thigh and knee pads be worn by all players.
The rules are put in place by the league’s competition committee, with little input from the league’s officials other than having two people in place, vice president of officiating Dean Blandino and senior director of officiating Alberto Riveron, for reference on rules.
Despite the spotlight on officials, the group in Minnesota said they never have second thoughts about the job.
“Never, even when you have a bad day, never,” said head judge Tony Veteri. “It’s just a wonderful opportunity.”
“A bad day of officiating is better than a good day of work,” Ellison said.
Berger out, secondary on the mend: Backup center and guard Joe Berger missed Monday’s walk-through and practice and coach Leslie Frazier wasn’t sure when he would be able to return as he tends to a personal matter.
Frazier said Berger had to leave camp Sunday night.
Cornerbacks Josh Robinson and Xavier Rhodes and safety Mistral Raymond have been dealing with hamstring injuries. Robinson and Raymond returned to practice on Monday, but the rookie Rhodes was still sitting out and said his status is day to day.
Linebacker Desmond Bishop sat out practice Monday with a groin injury.
“Not overly concerned unless it lingers,” Frazier said. “We’ll see. He’ll be day-to-day and hopefully we can get him back and get him some action on Friday night, but we’ll have to kind of wait and see.”
Bishop said after practice the injury is getting better, but he wasn’t sure when he’d be able to return.
Looks at punt returner: Marcus Sherels, who returns after leading the team in punt returns last season is still considered the top option to return punts this season according to special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who prefers Sherels sure-handed ability.
Several other returners could see action in Friday’s first preseason game, according to Frazier, including receiver Stephen Burton and Bobby Felder.
“We’re debating about whether or not we want (Cordarrelle) Patterson to have a chance to do it as well,” Frazier said. “Jarius Wright may get an opportunity. So we’ve got a few candidates to potentially take a look at and we’ll just see how it goes in the game as it unfolds.”