NFL Evolution  


Opinion: Time needed for players, fans to adapt to safety rules


The NFL's new health and safety rules for this season have been well documented. The crown of the helmet rule will outlaw ball carriers from lowering their head for extra yardage. And the leg pad rule will force players to wear full protection despite the protests of some.

Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News says these new rules will take some getting used to, for the players and the fans.

Many current NFL players seem to think the rules have gone too far. Several have squawked about it publicly. You have to respect the guys who do this for a living. So Monday morning at 49ers training camp, I asked linebacker NaVorro Bowman a question: Do the rules changes make football a better game?

Bowman didn't blow off the question. Neither did he try to finesse it or give a snappy one-line insult. Bowman gave a thoughtful, reasoned reply. And although it wasn't a direct answer to my question, it told you everything about how Bowman feels.

"I mean, there's no CBA when you're growing up, learning about football," Bowman said. "You pretty much learn how to hit. Coaches at a young age, they try to figure out if you have that dog in you, if you have that anger in you. I don't think from that level to this level, they're on the same page. But you're going to have to get there."

In other words, this is going to be a big adjustment, especially for players coming into the NFL from colleges where they have been rewarded for being the most vicious hitters on their teams -- and where the collision rules are still more lenient in some respects.

Purdy said illegal hits to the head will be easier to enforce than most believe. However, the crown of the helmet rule will vex many coaches and fans.

"The new rule is kind of head-boggling." Bowman said, sympathizing with the runners. "Because on the defensive side, you want to protect yourself at the same time. So I'm not understanding (how) the running back can't lower his head outside the box. That tends to happen when you're trying to get a first down or something like that.

"So it's going to be a rule that's going to have to be played with ... But if we want to play in this league, we've got to abide by the rules. The referees have a tough job. So us, as players, just have to ... figure out a way to fit our game into the new way of playing in the NFL."

-- Bill Bradley, contributing editor



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