NFL Taking Trial-And-Error Approach To New Helmet Rule In Preseason

FOXBORO, Mass. — NFL preseason might be even more difficult to watch than normal this summer.

NFL referee Brad Allen held a news conference Wednesday after reporters covering the New England Patriots were shown a video demonstrating rule changes and new emphasis. He said there might be more flags during the preseason as NFL officials grow accustomed to new helmet rules.

Here is the language of the new rule:

“As approved by NFL clubs in March, it is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. Contact does not have to be to an opponent’s head or neck area – lowering the head and initiating contact to an opponent’s torso, hips, and lower body, is also a foul. Violations of the rule will be easier to see and officiate when they occur in open space – as opposed to close line play – but this rule applies anywhere on the field at any time.​

Penalties for Violation: Loss of 15 yards. If the foul is by the defense, it is also an automatic first down. The player may also be ejected. Ejection standards:

  1. Player lowers his helmet to establish a linear body posture prior to initiating and making contact with the helmet
  2. Unobstructed path to his opponent
  3. Contact clearly avoidable and player delivering the blow had other options”

“Frankly, like we alluded to with the preseason, we’re going to have the opportunity to see these plays,” Allen said Wednesday. “Up until now, we haven’t seen these plays. OK? The players haven’t experienced this rule. We’re going to have to get a library, and frankly, in preseason, we may throw and then go back and say, ‘No, this is really not what we want. …

“In the preseason, we want to err on the side of putting the flag on the ground and then evaluating if it’s correct. We want to be right by the time we get to the season. So, will it be subjective to some degree? I think it will. We have to remember that safety is a priority, but there are a number of fouls that are subjective.”

The NFL has four weeks of preseason football to get the new helmet rule down. Allen also acknowledged officials will need the preseason to determine how they will call the new rule in the trenches between offensive line and defensive linemen, when lowering the helmet is more prevalent.

Patriots safety Devin McCourty expects there to be more penalties called in the preseason. New England’s preseason opener is Thursday night against the Washington Redskins.

“They try to get guys used to it, but one thing we always talk about here is you have to play the game how it’s being officiated that day,” McCourty said. “If one call’s been called like two or three times, you can’t keep doing the same thing. You have to always pay attention to it.”

Thumbnail photo via Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports Images

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