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New NFL rules: Crown-of-helmet change to help runner, defender

By Bill Bradley, contributing editor

Editor's note: This is a closer look at one of four player health and safety rules that are new to this NFL season, which begins Thursday.

NEW RULE: A ban on a ball carrier initiating contact with the crown of his helmet in the open field or by a defender while making a tackle.

What the rule changes: A 15-yard penalty will be called if a runner or a tackler initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players clearly are outside the tackle box (an area extending from tackle-to-tackle and from 3 yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the offensive team's end line). Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or a tackler against an opponent would not be deemed a foul.

Why the change was made: The NFL is trying to avoid concussions at all costs, so this rule will make it illegal for players to use their helmets as weapons. Using the helmet on hits against receivers already is illegal, so this is the next logical step.

How it will impact player health and safety:Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, chairman of the NFL Competition Committee, said after the rule passed: "We really think the time has come that we need to address the situation in space when a runner or a tackler has a choice as to how they are going to approach the opponent. We are going to say that you can't make that choice ducking your head and delivering a blow, a forcible blow, with the top crown of your helmet. We are trying to protect the runner or the tackler from himself in that instance."

What players are saying about it: "I don't use my head anyway. That's dangerous. It won't affect me at all. I don't lower my head when I'm contacting defenders. I lower my shoulder. It might be a thin line, like a judgment call, if you ask me. It's a thin line between what's lowering your shoulder and what's lowering your head. But the way they stated the rule how you have to first line him up, then you have to lower your head and deliver a blow -- it's understandable. I've never done that before. So I'm not worried at all." -- Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris to The Washington Post.

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