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Report: NFL Expects Adjustment To New Helmet Rule To Take Three Years

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- The storyline dominating the NFL preseason this summer involves the implementation of a new rule banning all players from initiating contact with their helmet. And it's with good reason.

As Pro Football Talk noted, penalties have been called for the new helmet rule 51 times through 33 preseason games -- a pace that would account for close to 400 flags in the regular season. That's obviously a significant impact, and while many pundits and analysts believe on-field officials might be calling penalties more often in the preseason than they will in the preseason, the league has not given any indication that the real games will be officiated any differently.

In fact, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that when it comes to the players and coaches fully adapting to the style of play dictated by the new rule, the NFL "is looking at a 'probable three-year' adjustment to the new emphasis that will change behavior with consistent application."

That's certainly not the news that most football fans -- and players -- likely wanted to hear. The rule has created much more confusion than it has clarity, and its inconsistent application has led to most people wondering how, exactly, this new rule will work. Certainly, there have been numerous instances of players lowering their heads into each other this preseason, without a penalty being called. Other times, seemingly innocuous tackles have resulted in 15-yard penalties. And that's only on plays involving ball carriers; the league vowed to enforce the penalty with all players across the whole field, yet it's yet to really spring up on the line of scrimmage, where helmet contact is almost entirely unavoidable on nearly every snap.

The spirit behind the rule -- to "send a consistent message that the helmet is not a weapon," per Mortensen -- is rooted in the right place, and frankly, there is plenty of room for the NFL to step in and eliminate certain unnecessary windows for hits to the head. (For example, a defensive player going helmet-to-helmet on a ball carrier who's being held up by a tackler.) But the implementation of this particular rule seems to overlook some very obvious factors of speed, size, kinetics, and natural instincts and reactions. What's seemingly been clear through two weeks of the preseason is that a universal application of a vague rule is only setting the NFL up to have real games potentially decided by the selective enforcement of an unclear rule.

But fear not, football fans. According to Mortensen, NFL head of officiating Alberto Riveron will soon be releasing an "updated video tutorial" to help clear up and and all confusion. Given how crystal clear the previous explanatory video from Riveron was, one can only imagine that this will surely solve the problem that the NFL itself created.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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