Officials don't expect a slew of penalties to follow new helmet rule
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MANKATO, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings' defense collected more than $100,000 worth of fines last season for various helmet-to-helmet hits and roughing the passer penalties, among others.
But with the NFL's new rule changes in March, ball carriers like running back Adrian Peterson will be subject to a similar "spearing" penalty that has been put in place to regulate defensive players from leading with the crown of their helmet to initiate contact.
"They're adding these rules to protect guys," one official told a group of reporters on Monday. "We don't expect a big rash of these things. We're looking for three keys: outside the box, is the defender lining the runner up and the dipping of the head."
Peterson is a prime example for the new rule in a video being shown across the training camps of all 32 teams, a highlight is shown of Peterson breaking loose in a game at the Chicago Bears when he lowers his head and places the crown of his helmet directly in the chest of a Bears' player as he runs through the defender.
That play would now result in a 15-yard penalty and is open to further consequences by the league afterwards.
"I'm sure sometimes, my natural instinct, I'll have my head down," Peterson said last week. "I hope they miss it."
Officials said it's now more of a judgment call than it has ever been, because the three identifiers for an illegal hit are all up to the referees' discretion.
For a penalty to occur, the player in question must first be outside the box; second, the defender or ball carrier must line up the opposing player and hit him straight on with the crown of his helmet, and third, the contact must have been avoidable, meaning the opposing player's position was not altered by anyone and was not forced into the contact.
"If it's close, we're not going to call it," an official said. "It's one of the few safety rules there is, that if there's any doubt, you don't call it."
The NFL has sent a few officials out of 119 total to each team in order to further clarify the rule changes to reporters and players. A group of referees will speak to Vikings players at their 7 p.m. meeting on Monday.
Other rule changes include:
• If a coach illegally throws his challenge flag (on a scoring play or turnover), the team is either charged a timeout or if none is available, a 15-yard penalty. Previously, the play was ruled unreviewable and the play stood as called before any challenge.
• All players, except for kickers and punters, will be required to wear thigh and knee pads. A five-yard penalty is issued the first time for an infraction, with a possible ejection for any repeat offenders. The NFL used a shot of Peterson sporting his pads in their instructional video.
• The NFL is going to place an emphasis on running backs grabbing a defender's face mask. A 15-yard penalty will be assessed if a running back tweaks his hand in any fashion that alters the defender's head.
• The infamous "tuck rule" is now eliminated. Once a quarterback's arm begins to come back towards his body, the loss of the football results in a fumble, not an incompletion.
• Unsportsmanlike conduct penalties will be further emphasized this season, including any player who throws, spikes or spins the ball after the whistle is blown as well as any player who instigates a fight on the field. Previously, officials typically threw flags for the guy who retaliated in fighting situations. Officials now said those plays will be reviewed and penalties issued accordingly. The NFL used a clip of cornerback A.J. Jefferson throwing the ball after a play as an example.