With players bigger and faster than ever it has created more full-speed contact in the secondary and in turn the opportunities for injuries. Now the NCAA has decided to put rules in place to try to make the game safer for players, but are they changing the very foundation of the game in the process?
Now a defensive player that is called for targeting a player above the shoulders and around the head can be ejected from the game and the team given a 15-yard penalty. Even if the ejection is overturned the penalty will still stand, something that could impact wins and losses.
Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said that could be the case. One of the most experience coaches in the country, Johnson is old school and believes in playing physical football. He also believes in playing the game the right way. Because of that he's not sure exactly where the new targeting rules are going to take the game moving forward because of the penalties that could be enforced based on a referee's interpretations of what happened.
With the target tackling area for defenders moving lower and lower, Johnson said the coaches and players will have to adapt to the changes in the game. A fast game that is played on instincts with decisions made and carried out in split-seconds, he said putting too much power into the hands of the referees with suspensions on the line isn't the best scenario.
"Well, we're going to have to coach it. Some in particular, like the blindside hits, you're going to have to coach it to be more of in a shielding attitude than in an aggressive, attacking attitude and cut out on the old blindside type of hits. But the ones where you're trying to tackle somebody and you don't leave your feet, we're just going to have to deal with the consequences I guess, if it occurs. But we've never coached anything like that, and I wouldn't coach anything like that. Some of them are very obvious.
"You can see it when sometimes they take a forearm up high, try to go up above the shoulder pads, or when they leave their feet or lead with their head. But some of them, guys are still on the ground running, and you see them kind of just turn. They don't even make the contact with their head, and their intent is not to hit the other guy's head, but they come into the chest area and it slides up on the head. I just don't know how you take that out of football."
With the need to make sure players don't target above the shoulders and draw a penalty, there is obviously going to be more low hits and tackles this season as teams try to adapt to the new rules. Johnson said that's not necessarily a good thing in his eyes either as players may be in line for even more injuries of a different sort in 2013.
"The general intent of the rule, I'm in favor of it but my biggest fear is that, if they keep bringing us down lower and lower, I think you're going to see knee injuries on offensive players and neck injuries on defensive players," Johnson said. "The one thing I hope that it will stop is guys leaving their feet, launching if you will, and going straight to the head.
"The examples that they showed us on film in the referee session yesterday, a lot of times the ball carrier or the defender – whoever's getting ready to be in the collision – they will naturally drop their hips or drop their shoulders for the collision and that brings the head down. So a lot of these things are not intentional, and for that reason I think it's like a lot of rules. Sometimes the unintended consequences are brought along."