July 30, 2014

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Football: Rules changes ‘target’ risky tackles

COLUMBUS — The key word when it comes to football rules this fall — one fans will hear again and again — is “targeting.”

In the parlance of the NCAA, that describes players who hit a defenseless player above the shoulders. Do it, and you’ll be ejected, and your team gets a 15-yard penalty.

Spectators may love a crunching hit, but the ruling bodies of the game at all levels are putting extra emphasis on safety in this current environment where concussions have undergone particular scrutiny.
Coaches are also putting high hits under the microscope.

“We’re going to have an official come in and discuss the new rule on the targeting of players and ejections,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said.

“We had one in practice already — the player would have gotten thrown out of the game, the official told me. I just want to make sure we’re on the same page.”

Every Ohio State player has had an instructional video sent to his iPad about the safety of tackling and avoiding dangerous hits.

It’s talked about in meetings, practices and huddles and will undoubtedly be in the headlines when the games start to count.

“That’s a game-changer,” Meyer said. “That’s not just the next new rule. That’s a big one.”

The Buckeyes’ co-defensive coordinator, Everett Withers, conceded there are still problems figuring out just exactly what a targeted hit is.

“It’s really about targeting the head and neck area. If you’re not targeting that, then it should not be a call,” he said. “The problem is that as a defensive coach, you’re trying to teach to tackle up high so you can run through a guy. What we don’t want to do is try to get our head out of tackling because now the shoulder pads weren’t really made to be tackling instruments. They were made for safety and protection, too. There’s a little bit of a contradiction in what’s going on.”

All ejections under the new rule are reviewable through video replay. The replay official must have “conclusive evidence” to overturn the ejection. Conferences are permitted to add sanctions or reduce a suspension based on a postgame review.

Also in the college game, the NCAA clarified blocking below the waist, determined the ball cannot be spiked to stop the clock if there’s less than three seconds left on the clock and will allow instant replay to adjust the clock at the end of each quarter.

In the NFL, players who celebrate after a first down by spinning the ball can be called for taunting.

“Verbal abuse of an opponent” is one of three points of emphasis this season, the others being hits on players in the grasp on the ground or whose progress has been stopped, and discouraging ball carriers from grabbing and twisting an opponent’s face mask.

Similar to the new rules in the college game, the pros also are trying to prevent or at least limit concussions and upper-body injuries. Ball carriers and tacklers are no longer permitted to lead with the crown of their helmets, and no contact can be made to the head or neck area of a defenseless player. The flagged player can be suspended.

Also, peel-back blocks are now illegal inside the tackle box. The so-called “tuck rule” — when a quarterback loses possession of the ball while attempting to bring it back to his body — has been deleted from the NFL’s record book. And long-snappers are now considered defenseless players while snapping the ball.

Just like in college and the NFL, at the high school level special emphasis has been put on preventing injuries, particularly a prohibition of contact to and with the helmet.

Additional changes or points of interest include: pass interference now results in a 15-yard penalty and there is no automatic first down (for a defensive call) or loss of down (for an offense); initiating contact with a helmetless player is now an illegal personal-contact foul; players must sit out the next play if their helmet comes off; it’s a catch now if an airborne player is carried out of bounds by an opponent; and teams can be penalized 15 yards for interfering with a fair catch.

Online: For more information: http://www.ncaa.org ; http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-videos/0ap2000000227096/2013-NFL-rule-changes ; http://www.nfhs.org/Football/
Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/RustyMillerAP.