Coaches, players confused by implementation of helmet rule

Riddick agrees common sense must prevail with helmet rule (1:01)

Louis Riddick believes helmet-to-helmet contact is subjective and now sees penalties called when the offensive player lowers his head for contact. (1:01)

EAGAN, Minn. -- Concerns over the implementation of the NFL's new helmet rule continue to mount through the preseason and have drawn frustration and concern from players and coaches alike.

The new rule, which penalizes offensive and defensive players for lowering their head to initiate contact with their helmet to any part of an opposing player's body, was designed to make the game safer. How it's being enforced by officials in the preseason is generating stark controversy. Some, including Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, even believe it might lead to how games are decided.

"It's going to cost some people some jobs -- playoffs, jobs, the whole bit I'm guessing," Zimmer said Monday. "We haven't had any called on us so far. It's just hard to figure out. No one has ever said to me, 'Hey. Don't worry about it, we're going to call it less or we'll get it straightened out in the regular season. Or we're going to come up with a revised rule.' No one has ever said that."

Added Vikings safety Harrison Smith: "I don't fear it; that's going to happen. Without a doubt, that's going to happen. ... That's going to change games."

The Jacksonville Jaguars were on the receiving end of a helmet call in the first quarter of Saturday's preseason game when Vikings fullback C.J. Ham caught a pass from Kirk Cousins and lowered his shoulder into cornerback A.J. Bouye. Because Bouye appeared to lower his head while bracing for contact, he was flagged for a 15-yard personal foul.

Zimmer said he turned that play in to the league because he wanted to understand why that was a penalty. Zimmer was asked whether he has a better understanding of what's a penalty now.

"Quite honestly, no. The one that they had called on them, the guys is tackling around his legs and he had his head to the side for the most part. I actually sent that in to ask them, 'Why was this called?' Then you see other places, because I go through the tape, and I'm saying, 'I wonder if this is a penalty. I wonder if this is a penalty.' I think it's very hard to tackle a guy," he said.

Smith said he doesn't believe Bouye could have done anything differently.

"I don't really think so," Smith said. "And I do want to drive home the point that, especially as defensive players and as ball carriers, we do want to make the game as safe as you can make it, no matter what. It is football and we're out there hitting, so it's not always going to be possible, but we're not resistant to these changes. They just need to be physically possible, I guess?"

In his 44th NFL season and 19th as New England Patriots head coach, Bill Belichick doesn't see much of an issue, however.

"I would just say, from my standpoint, it's not a change for us, it's not a change for our coaching staff. We've never taught that. We've never taught tackling with the crown of our helmet, putting our head down and leading our body forward in that type of position," Belichick said Monday during his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI.

"I don't think fundamentally that's a good position to be in. It's not effective. There's a lot of things that can go wrong, besides getting hurt, and that's an important one. So we've always tackled and blocked with our head up, and our eyes open and head back so we can see what we hit. That's the only way I've ever coached it. If we do it that way, we'll be within the rules, so that's what we try to teach."

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman has been a vocal critic of the rule. He continued to speak out Sunday in a series of tweets sparked when Brett Tessler, the agent for his teammate Raheem Mostert, complained that his client was flagged for unnecessary roughness Saturday for leading with his head.

The Ravens' Eric Weddle also replied to Sherman's tweets with his own criticism of the rule change.

The Tennessee Titans and defending champion Philadelphia Eagles are tied for the most lowering-the-head penalties through two preseason games with five apiece.

Six teams that have played two preseason games have not been flagged for lowering the head to initiate contact. Indianapolis, which played Baltimore on Monday night, was not flagged in its preseason opener. Behind the Titans and Eagles, five teams have been penalized under the rule three times apiece: Arizona, Atlanta, Carolina, the Rams and San Francisco.

Chicago has three such penalties through three exhibitions.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said his team's defensive players were meeting Monday afternoon to look at helmet fouls called on both Philadelphia and other teams across the league.

"We're trying to be educated on what's going to get called and what's not. The instructions we've given guys is try not to lower your head and try to take your head out of it," Schwartz said. "And I think our guys are trying to do that. The other thing we say is you want to lower your target, but along with lowering your target and trying to stay away from the head, sometimes that causes you to dip your head. They're trying to play within the rules. ... The problem is they're dealing with world-class athletes who are moving targets. A little bit easier said than done."

Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said Sunday he already showed his team an eight-minute video from the NFL of penalties in the first week of the preseason.

"We'll keep doing that and we'll keep coaching it and we'll keep stressing it, and hopefully it doesn't, one, lead to injuries, or two, cost us yards," Vrabel said.

Safety Shamarko Thomas, then with the Colts, is the only player to be ejected for lowering his head to initiate contact this preseason, with that taking place during his team's preseason opener against the Seahawks. Thomas was released by the Colts days later and has since signed with the Denver Broncos.

ESPN's Mike Reiss and Tim McManus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.