Falcons not worried about NFL's stricter helmet rules, ejections

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel is not overly concerned about his defensive players being affected by the NFL's decision to crack down on lowering the helmet for impact.

While at the league meetings in Atlanta, the NFL owners approved an expansion of replay review to include all ejections. That was the final piece of a rule approved in March that will penalize and possibly eject players on both sides of the ball for lowering their helmets to initiate contact against an opponent.

"One of the things you gotta understand is that fact that when you've always taught the fact that you want to keep the helmet out of the game and when you tackle, leverage tackling, shoulder tackling [and] understanding that now I cannot utilize my helmet as the first point of contact," Manuel explained. "Knowing that now, everything that [defenders] do, we already had started implementing years ago. Now, we utilize our shoulder, understanding how we enter into contact.

"I think for us, the main thing is getting our young guys that are coming in, implementing our plan with the young guys and continuously keeping them on the same path."

The Falcons have one of the league's hardest young hitters in Pro Bowl strong safety Keanu Neal. But Manuel showed in a video session how Neal still utilizes the proper technique while delivering such physical blows.

"It won't be any paralysis by analysis," Manuel said. "[Neal] won't overanalyze it because we do it the right way in practice all the time."

Of course, players can't simulate game-speed tackling in practice situations, but the Falcons consistently work on drills with pads that emphasize the technique rugby-style tackling coach Dan Quinn brought with him from his days with the Seattle Seahawks.

Linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich has no doubt his fast linebackers, led by Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell, will play within the rules.

"We'll see how the refs call it and how tight they are with it," Ulbrich said. "I think of all teams, we'll have the least amount of transition with this because it's kind of what we've taught already. We've preached since the day we got here that the head is up and it's out of contact at all times. So we never taught to use the helmet. We never said, 'Duck your head into contact.' A lot of those principles are preached since Pop Warner, high school, college.

"Are we perfect? Do we do it right every time? No we don't. So there's an opportunity to get some flags. But I think our guys understand how to tackle the way we want them to tackle."

It will be interesting to see how the officials police when defensive linemen go head-to-head with offensive linemen in certain situations, particularly in goal-line scenarios. And it will be interesting as well to see how often running backs who lower their heads for extra yards get penalized under the new guidelines.

Free safety Ricardo Allen, considered the Falcons' surest tackle, isn't fazed by the NFL's most recent emphasis on helmet hits, either.

"Even when we're doing our drills, I make a conscious effort of lowering my pads and being able to shoulder tackle and keep my leverage," Allen said. "So when I get into games, it's real easy because I've done it so many times. I try not to lead with my head all the time."