Efforts to protect football players from head injuries have regularly punished defensive players in recent years, but running backs could be subject to 15-yard penalties and/or fines from the league for use of their helmet, due to a new rule proposed by the NFL's competition committee.
The rule would penalize running backs for leading with the crown of their helmet outside the tackle box, which is defined as the space between the two offensive tackles at the time of the snap that extends to the end line on the offensive side of the line scrimmage and three yards on the defensive side of the ball.
On Monday, St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher was among three representatives of the competition committee that explained the new rule proposal in a press conference.
"We want to bring the shoulder back to the game," Fisher said. "We all know the helmet is a protective device; it's not designed to be used like it's being used as of late and we want to protect our players, specifically out in space."
Unsurprisingly, the rule has been met with some resistance and criticism, as many of the greatest runs in NFL history featured violent broken tackles that often featured the crown of the helmet used as a battering ram. Among those runs were a few from Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell, who made a name for himself trampling and punishing defenders during his days with the Houston Oilers.
"We are not saying the ball carrier cannot get small," Fisher said. "We are not saying the ball carrier cannot protect the football, because if he is going to go down to cover the football, if the shoulder goes down, we know the head goes down, we understand that...Protecting the football is OK, providing you do not strike with the crown of your helmet and that is what we are trying to differentiate."
Among the critics of the rule is Hall of Fame running back and current NFL Network personality, Marshall Faulk, who took to Twitter to complain about the change:
The new RB rule is a joke. #competitioncommittee— Marshall Faulk (@marshallfaulk) March 18, 2013
A RB can't lead with his helmet. A lot of chins are about to get busted.— Marshall Faulk (@marshallfaulk) March 18, 2013
Chicago Bears Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte took exception to the rule as well:
The proposed rule change for running backs might be the most absurd suggestion of a rule change I've ever heard of.— Matt Forte (@MattForte22) March 17, 2013
The poster-child of the new rule change, though, was Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson who found his way on to every NFL highlight after a huge collision with Kurt Coleman that left the Philadelphia Eagles safety without a helmet.
"We understand the shoulder goes, the head is going to come with it," Dean Blandino, the NFL vice president of officiating, said on Monday. "We really feel on the Richardson play, he has options and he doesn't have to lower his head like that and hit him in that manner."
A vote on the proposed rule is expected on Tuesday or Wednesday and requires at least 24 of 32 votes to pass.