The NFL’s crackdown on “lowering the helmet to initiate contact” has been brutal, as expected. The penalty on Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller for what sure looked like a textbook shoulder tackle against the Broncos was a travesty — or will be if that call is made in the regular season.
Be that as it may, this is the correction phase of the implementation of the rule — over-compensating and erring on the side of caution are part of the process. When the stock market drops a thousand points in a day, that doesn’t mean it’s going to drop a thousand points every day. It eventually levels off and carries on.
It remains to be seen if the application of the helmet rule follows that course. It’s unlikely that league officials will find that happy medium — penalizing infractions within the spirit of the rule without Fuller-like injustices — from the start of the regular season. There are going to be issues. The rule is going to impact games. And players are going to be hesitant and break a cardinal rule of playing football, thinking instead of reacting.
“It’s the one that are bang-bang, where it looks like it happens or a turn of a shoulder and it’s a clean hit and it gets called — those are hard,” coach Matt Nagy said. “Those are the ones that … if you’re on the wrong end of that, it’s hard to accept.”
But eventually, officials will define the line and players will figure out where it is and the lower-the-helmet call will be no more controversial than “What is a catch?” or “What is pass interference?” With apologies to the football Neanderthals, if it takes the kill shot out of the game — like Danny Trevathan’s hit on the Packers’ Davante Adams last season — it’s worth the pain teams, players and fans are suffering now and will suffer this season.
This rule isn’t a money-grab by the NFL that so often draws legitimate criticism. It’s a sincere attempt to make the game safer and eradicate the worst development in the game in decades — the use of the helmet as a weapon.
2. Fuller was on the right track with his suggestion that coaches should be able to challenge lowering-the-helmet penalties. The NFL doesn’t allow video review of judgment calls such as holding and pass interference, but it should at least consider making an exception with the rule and allow those calls to be challenged, at least for this season. The Fuller-type calls are going to create the most havoc and indignation. Video reviews will eliminate that.
On cue, Troy Vincent, the NFL executive vice president of football operations, said Wednesday that the NFL’s competition committee will make no changes to the new rule after reviewing its implementation in the first two weeks of the preseason, including “no additional use of instant replay.”
3. It’s a little too early for I-told-you-so’s after Roquan Smith left his fourth practice with tightness in his left hamstring. But it’s about time that Sept. 9 no longer is the target date for Smith this season. Joey Bosa, who suffered a hamstring injury in his first practice after a 31-day holdout with the Chargers in 2016, missed the first four games but still won the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. Even if Smith isn’t Bosa, missing a game isn’t going to alter his rookie season.
4. Even in just three-plus practices with the Bears, Smith has made an impression on the coaching staff and his teammates.
“His mindset. He seems like a mature player,” Fuller said when asked what he liked about Smith. “Works hard. Those are good attributes that lead to what it takes to be a good player.”
Trevathan said he’s not thinking about what Smith missed during his 29-day holdout. “I’m more concerned about what he does know and trying to teach him to [improve] those techniques as well as catch up,” Trevathan said before Smith left practice Tuesday with a tight hamstring. “Right now, I don’t think he’s behind.”
5. Injuries are inevitable in an NFL season, but they’re starting to pile up for the Bears, with outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (broken right hand) and tight end Adam Shaheen (sprained ankle/foot) out indefinitely.
Floyd is among the starters/regulars the Bears can least afford to lose — arguably No. 2 behind quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Shaheen is at the other end of that spectrum. With Trey Burton and Dion Sims, tight end is one of the Bears’ deepest positions. If Floyd plays Week 1 against the Packers, even with a “club” on his broken hand, that might be a victory given the Bears’ recent luck with injuries.
6. Defensive end Akiem Hicks’ injury is the one to watch. Hicks missed the preseason game against the Broncos with knee soreness and missed practice Tuesday. He has played in all 32 games in two seasons with the Bears but missed only two practices last season — also because of a knee issue in Week 12. The Bears are being extremely cautious with sore or injured players, but if Hicks doesn’t play against the Chiefs, it might be a bigger issue. Hicks is the Bears’ best defensive player and arguably their best player overall. Though Roy Robertson-Harris seems to be growing into the defensive end role, the Bears can’t afford to lose Hicks.
7. The List: Players the Bears can least afford to lose based on their productivity and what the team has behind them: 1. Trubisky; 2. Floyd; 3. RB Jordan Howard; 4. Hicks; 5. LT Charles Leno; 6. NT Eddie Goldman; 7. G Kyle Long; 8. WR Allen Robinson; 9. TE Trey Burton; 10. LB Trevathan.
8. Though it was a preseason game, the 37-yard pass-interference penalty that Kevin White drew against the Broncos was noteworthy, and not just because it was Kevin White making a downfield play. The Bears gained just 30 yards on three defensive pass-interference penalties last season — the second-lowest yardage total in the NFL behind the Saints. And all of it came in the final four games, including 21 yards on a Trubisky pass to Dontrelle Inman in the waning moments of a 23-7 loss to the Vikings in Week 17 — the Bears’ 978th offensive snap of the season.
9. The Cody Whitehair-James Daniels-Eric Kush lineup scenario bears watching as an early test of Nagy’s staff to put the right guy in the right place. Based on their college production, it seems that Whitehair is best suited at guard and rookie Daniels is best suited at center. The Bears seem satisfied with Whitehair at center, Daniels backing him up and Kush at left guard.
Daniels won’t turn 21 until Sept. 13, but it’s unlikely the Bears drafted him 39th overall to back up Whitehair all season. (Olin Kreutz, who backed up and later split time with Casey Wiegmann as a 21-year-old rookie in 1998, was the 64th overall pick.)
Are the Bears concerned about starting a rookie center? For what it’s worth, seven teams in the last four seasons have made the playoffs with a rookie center, including the Vikings with third-round pick Pat Elflein last season.
10. Bear-ometer: 7-9 — at Packers (L); vs. Seahawks (L); at Cardinals (W); vs. Buccaneers (W); at Dolphins (W); vs. Patriots (L); vs. Jets (W); at Bills (L); vs. Lions (W); vs. Vikings (L); at Lions (L); at Giants (W); vs. Rams (L); vs. Packers (W); at 49ers (L); at Vikings (L).