As NFL emphasizes defensive contact penalties, Zimmer's not concerned
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MANKATO, Minn. - Mike Zimmer isn't worried about adjusting his coaching style to fit the NFL's rule changes and points of emphasis heading into 2014.
Zimmer, who has coached in the NFL since 1994, says the newly emphasized defensive holding and illegal contact by the secondary is of no concern.
"I teach within the rules all the way anyway," Zimmer said. "I think all coaches, we adjust to the rules and try to play within the rules and try to do things the right way...But we don't really have to change our techniques too much because, I'm not saying we won't have penalties; I'm saying that we don't teach penalties the way we teach things."
The Vikings were the fourth-least penalized team in 2013, per NFLpenalties.com, while Zimmer's Cincinnati Bengals landed in the middle at 14th-most penalized. Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes (5) tied with Fred Evans (5) for the most penalties on the team last season. Rhodes was flagged for four pass interference calls.
Zimmer has corrected defensive backs during practice about making illegal contact past the five-yard mark. Any holding and grabbing by a defender within the five yards will be further emphasized next season - with the preseason serving as a trial run for the new rules, which include:
- No tolerance on verbal abuse: Referees will be at Vikings training camp from Thursday until Saturday night, advising players on the abusive language that won't be tolerated on the field this season. Players will be flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct if they verbally abuse the opponent or referee in any way.
- No chop blocks from the side: As Kevin Williams found out last season, low blocks - even when deemed legal - can mean devastating knee injuries to all players, most often linemen. It is no longer legal for blocks to be made 1-on-1 from the side. Previously, it was only illegal from the back of the player.
- Centralized replay: All head referees will now be equipped with an extra microphone wired to the NFL's officiating center in New York. The referee will be consulting either vice president of officiating Dean Blandino or senior director of officiating Alberto Riveron during replay reviews.
- Moving back the extra point: The NFL will experiment during the first two preseason games by moving the extra point back to the 15-yard line.
Vikings kicker Blair Walsh does not exactly endorse the move: "It's not a chip shot, but it's manageable," Walsh said. "I think over the course of 16 games, you're going to get games that would be lost by an extra point. I don't think that's what the NFL wants."
- No dunking on goal post: Using the goal post - or any part of the goal post - as a prop will be flagged as an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Other points of emphasis include:
(1) Hands to the face, neck and head, even if it's only for a brief moment, will be flagged.
Guard Brandon Fusco was the only Viking used in the NFL's officiating video shown to all NFL teams and coaches during the offseason. During a game at the Detroit Lions, Fusco places his hands on the face mask of a Lions' defender as the first contact after the snap. The NFL will rule this a 10-yard penalty now, even though the contact was brief. There is also a five-yard variant.
Offensive line coach Jeff Davidson said there will be no change in the way he coaches, either: "We don't coach hands to the face," Davidson said. "If their hands go high, we try to get them to lower their target. We spend a lot of time on hand placement, which is a big part of what we do."
(2) Defensive back contact beyond the five-yard area will be enforced more strictly.
(3) Pushoffs at the top of the route by receivers will be looked at more.
(4) Unless the motion is fluid and obvious, any non-football move at the line of scrimmage will be deemed a false start, even if it doesn't draw any defensive movement.
(5) Defensive backs grabbing at any part of the receiver's uniform, even within five yards, will be watched more closely.