After the passing of the crown-of-the-helmet rule earlier this week, to the surprise of absolutely no one anywhere running backs have trickled out to express their displeasure. It seems they’re not happy with the NFL restricting their basic instinct, which is to both protect themselves and lower their pad level when faced with an oncoming collision, and to “win” that collision by overpowering their opponent and gaining as much yardage as possible.
First it was Matt Forte, who harped on the latter point when he essentially said that football is inherently a chaotic sport, and at some point limiting that chaos is impossible. Except he sort of used different words.
Now David Wilson has chimed in, and his favorite word seems to be “ridiculous”. I rather enjoy that word too.
During an interview yesterday on WFAN, Wilson raised an interesting point that hasn’t been discussed much, probably because it’s so damn simple and obvious. When you’re spriting and trying to run as fast as you possibly can — as running backs do pretty much every time they touch a ball — your natural instinct is to lower your head.
Tell us more, David:
“That’s ridiculous, cause even track runners, when they’re running, the first thing to cross the finish line is their head. And running backs, also, the first thing that gets there is our head. That’s kind of weird. I guess they expect us to lead with our chests now rather than our head.”
Now in fairness, at the press conference to end the owners meetings earlier this week the competition committee was abundantly clear in explaining that a 15-yard penalty would only be assessed to a player — either a tackler or a ball carrier — who led with the crown of his helmet. Or in layman’s terms (see: I’m about to talk to you like you’re a complete idiot), the very top of their head. Although that’s still highly restrictive, it can be argued by someone who’s not me that such an action is much more deliberate than instinctive.
Sort of like this…
But really, isn’t that what running backs have always done when they’re attempting to power through a tackle in the open field? And therefore, isn’t that play now being stripped from them entirely? Jeff Fisher and the gang will argue that an RB’s pad level and therefore also his head can still be lowered at the point of contact, as long as he’s leading with his facemask, or his forehead.
Yeah, good luck with that. In those milliseconds to process the developing play, a running back isn’t going to remember that. And if he does, he’ll find that leading with his forehead instead of completely lowering his head will lead to many more injuries in a league where player protection is supposedly heightened.
About that adjustment. Wilson will only be starting his second season next fall, and his first as a starting back after the Giants cut Ahmad Bradshaw. But that won’t make changing his running style any easier.
“I don’t know, I guess I’ll get fined a couple of times and try to figure it out. I can’t really think of another way. Leading with the shoulder, I mean, that’s the first piece of contact. I think that’s the best way to get around the rule.”
Yes, that’s correct. But it’ll take some serious brain training and muscle memory to change quite literally a life of putting head before shoulder while battling a natural running instinct.