Bears DC Vic Fangio on helmet rule: ’It’s going to be a hard rule to officiate’
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BOURBONNAIS — As a longtime NFL defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio is a teacher of some repute. But even Fangio knows that erasing years of players habitually and almost instinctively lowering their head and using their helmet as a tackling weapon will be difficult. At least at first.
“We’ve been coaching it, and I’ve been talking about it a lot in the meetings,’’ Fangio said Tuesday in a rare interview with Bears reporters at training camp at Olivet Nazarene University. ‘‘We have video we show in the meetings. But we don’t do a lot of live stuff out here, and I don’t think most teams do.”
So it remains to be seen just how well Fangio and his staff can coach that out of his players.
“We’re trying hard,’’ Fangio said. ‘‘But until they get put in game action or live action, I don’t think we’ll know the answer to that. But we have been making them fully aware of it.”
The Bears and Ravens will provide the first opportunity to see the impact of the NFL’s new rule that prohibits any player — on offense, defense or special teams — from lowering the head to initiate contact with his helmet when they open the preseason Thursday in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.
The penalty will be 15 yards for unnecessary roughness. Upon mandatory video replay, a player can be ejected if it’s determined he established “a linear body posture prior to . . . contact with the helmet,” if the player had “an unobstructed path to his opponent’’ or “contact was clearly avoidable; player delivering the blow had other options.”
“That’ll be interesting,” Fangio said. “I think what’s been lost in it a little bit is it’s offense and defense. We had a live drill out there a couple of days ago, and I saw a few [penalties] on the offense that could have been called. I think it’s going to be an extremely hard play to officiate other than the super-obvious [infractions]. We’ll see. We don’t know.”
There is little doubt the new rule will increase penalties — certainly early in the season and likely throughout the season. And the somewhat subjective nature of determining in real time what is a foul and what isn’t indeed figures to be problematic.
But it also will be interesting to see if some teams adjust faster than others. Or if some teams can coach the habit out of players more quickly than others. Depending on just how strictly the new rule is applied, it could be an advantage for some teams and a disadvantage for others.
“We are trying to make them aware of it, and they are aware of it,” Fangio said. “And there are some [infractions] that have happened in the past that we can eliminate. I just don’t know that we can eliminate them all.”
Players will be challenged to abide by the new rule while also playing with the quick-twitch aggressiveness that makes most defensive players effective. It could be a delicate balance.
“I’ve shown them plays where I think we can definitely adjust,’’ Fangio said. ‘‘There are some plays that will be hard to adjust. We’ll just have to keep working on it.”
Eventually — depending on how the officials enforce the new rule — players will adjust. The unknown is how costly this process will be.
“One of the most non-football rules ever put into football was the five-yard illegal-contact rule,” Fangio said. ‘‘If coaches from the ’60s rose from the dead today, they would want to go back in their grave with that rule. And we’ve adjusted [to that]. I think they’ll eventually adjust. I don’t know how it’s going to look early. Traditionally, with these types of rules, you might see more flags in the preseason. But I really do think it’s going to be a hard rule to officiate.”
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