- The Washington Times - Monday, August 13, 2018

RICHMOND — The Washington Redskins were one of the most recent teams to meet with NFL referees about the league’s new use-of-helmet rule.

Like many others around the league, they still have questions.

Coach Jay Gruden is concerned about “gray areas” in the rules after Carl Cheffers and his crew presented to the Redskins and New York Jets Sunday at Bon Secours Training Center.

Rule 12.2.8 makes it a personal foul if “a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.”

“I just think they are the bang-bang type plays,” Gruden said Monday. “You know, the receiver goes up for a pass and the defensive back has a low target and then at the last second the receiver ducks his head. I mean, is it targeting or not? The running back who lowers his shoulder to protect himself and his head happens to lead because his body leans forward and he hits the guy. Is that a penalty on the running back?”

Cheffers later told reporters that refs “live in the gray areas,” but admitted that the new rules represent “a pretty significant cultural change for the football community.”

“(Coaches and players are) challenged with the changes that the rules committee put in, but they always have the ability to adapt,” Cheffers said. “One thing that I’ve noticed here in my tenure in the league is the players are very adaptive to changes in the rules.”

Redskins linebacker Mason Foster was sympathetic to the league trying to make the game safer, in part because his young sons want to play someday. But he also acknowledged the game has an inherently violent component.

“I feel like they’re trying to get the game to be less violent and look less — I don’t know what you’d call it, scary or whatever to people,” Foster said. “You see people getting hurt big-time on violent hits. They’re just trying to make it safer, I understand it, but at the end of the day I’ve been playing football since I was 8 years old so I kind of know what I signed up for.”

Fellow linebacker Zach Brown thinks it will be harder for defensive backs to adjust than for players in the box like himself. But he took more exception to a rule already in place, prohibiting defenders from landing on top of a quarterback during a sack or tackle, which will be a point of emphasis this year after Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone broke on such a play in 2017.

“We’re not Superman. We can’t change direction in the air,” Brown said, adding, “That rule right there is one that needs to get changed. That’s a quarterback rule.”

Jets cornerback Trumaine Johnson also said he still doesn’t understand the rule changes after the presentation.

“I guess they want us to eliminate all that and tackle with our shoulders, with our head up,” Johnson said. “We’ll work that in practice so we can take that to the game.”

Players around the NFL have voiced confusion and concern about the new rules since training camps opened, starting with the Philadelphia Eagles. Refs presenting to the Eagles did not have a unanimous answer about whether safety Malcolm Jenkins would have been penalized for a hit in Super Bowl LII that knocked New England Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks out of the game.

It led Jenkins to vow he would not change his style, saying, “I’m going to make that play 10 times out of 10. If it’s a flag, it’s a flag.”

Clearly, the referees are not settled on the rules yet, themselves. Cheffers said they plan to build a “library” of game footage for themselves, in order to cement exactly what the league wants and doesn’t want called. He also said flags during the preseason may look different than what is flagged in the regular season.

Foster pointed out the myriad reasons he and his teammates are incentivized to change how they hit opponents.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to play within the rules. You’re gonna end up costing your team the game, or something bad’s gonna happen, somebody’s gonna get hurt,” Foster said. “You have to play within the rules or they’re gonna take your money away or kick you out the game. You gotta figure out a way to make it happen, and that’s what we’re working on.”

“I think if you really look hard enough you could probably throw a flag at every play,” Gruden said. “But the intent obviously, we understand. We want to protect the players without a doubt. But you know, at the speed that these guys play at, it’s easier said than done sometimes, is my point.”

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