Guest Post

Hitting on the Mind for Vikings First Padded Practice

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from www.purplePTSD writer and editor of purplePTSD and VikingsTerritory, Joe Oberle.

Monday at Vikings training camp—“time to rise and grind,” as many players are wont to say. Monday is, in a way, the third unofficial start to training camp—first the rookies report, then the veterans report and Monday the hitting starts. The Vikings will don pads for the first time this camp on Monday afternoon and for the first time at TCO Performance Center. And we are here to report what that is like.

Everything that happens for the first time is new at the new Eagan facility, but there is nothing new about hitting in the NFL—unless, of course, if you consider the new hitting rule.

The way it stands, the players have to learn (yet again) a new way to tackle and hit without being penalized for it—or even ejected for it in some cases. The new rule is trying to eliminate players from leading with the crown of their helmet to initiate contact. That includes hitting the defenseless player anywhere, not just the head and neck area; it can affect every player on the field. The rule has caused plenty of discussion, concern and, as we will we be seeing soon, plenty of adjustment from the teams.

“I think there is going to be a lot of challenges with it,” head coach Mike Zimmer said on Saturday in anticipation of the first padded practice. When I am going through tape right now from past games or plays and [I am] thinking to myself, ‘I think that is going to be a penalty right now or, I wonder if that one is going to be a penalty this year’. It is going to take a little bit of preseason to clean up a little bit. I think they [referees] kind of understand what they are going to call, but talking to officials and things like that, it is going to be tough at first.”

Team owner Mark Wilf was asked about the rule on Monday and it appears to top of mind with the organization. The league is trying everything they can to help eliminate concussions and other major injuries, and this has become the latest step in the process.

“I know Coach Zimmer spoke to it, and I will defer to his comments on that,” Wilf said. “But the reality is there are rule changes and talking to officials and league officials and going through preseason, everyone is going to feel out where the reality hits the road on those rules—so, the players can adjust to what the reality is. It’s still to be worked through in this preseason.”

For the players, that process starts on Monday with the first padded practice and while that is always a landmark day for the defense, they have to keep the new rules in mind when putting on the “foil”, er . . . uh, the pads.

Of course,” Linval Joseph said after the morning walk through, when asked if the new rule is something he has to be cognizant of. “But I don’t [think about it constantly]. At the end of the day I am football player. I have been doing it as a pro for nine years. I know my job and I know what I have to do, and right now my job is to help this team understand how to be a pro. That’s what I am going to do this afternoon.”

But for Joseph, the advent of pads in practice is not that much of a change for him.

“It’s the same for me. Pads, no pads, it’s the same physicality inside,” the defensive tackle said. “It will just be great to finally figure out our team. So, first day in pads, I am excited to see what happens, how good we can be and how many less mistakes we can make. So that’s the challenge to see, can we go out there and do our job and make no mistakes—that’s day one for pads.”

Regardless, the new rule is going to have an effect on everything the teams will do going forward. They won’t be really taking players to the ground in camp, but they will have to adjust to a new way of playing the game—starting with the first padded practice.

“Yes, we will have to,” Zimmer said, when asked it will change the way the coaches instruct practice. “I think it is going to happen way more in the secondary and things like that or open field situations. That is where I notice it most on tape. We will definitely have to talk about that.”

Starting Monday afternoon.

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Joe Oberle

Joe Oberle is a veteran sportswriter/editor/reporter and has covered the Vikings since 2008. The author of three books, he has been published in numerous periodicals and websites. He is the managing editor for VikingsTerritory.com and purplePTSD.com, as well.

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2 Comments

  1. I just think the fact that they can’t be more clear about the new rules is going to hurt the game in 2018 ~ At the very least the first half of the season ~ But hey what do I know ~

    I saw a couple of reports from the Eagles camp yesterday were they had no more understanding of the new helmet rules after meeting with like 6 refs than that did before the meeting ~

    Hopefully the Vikings coaches are able to make it clear to all 90 players early on ~ And for sure by week one for the final 53 man roster ~

    JMHO this has ugly wrote all over it ~

  2. Here is the link to one of the reports from the Eagles meeting with the refs ~

    Helmet-hit presentation has Eagles perplexed
    Jul 29

    http://www.theredzone.org/Blog-Description/EntryId/71267/Helmet-hit-presentation-has-Eagles-perplexed

    A presentation this week by NFL referees to the Philadelphia Eagles on the new helmet rule caused frustration among the players, according to team members, and created further confusion for some about what is expected of them, Tim McManus of ESPN reports.

    “We were trying to ask questions to get a better understanding, and yet they couldn’t really give us an answer,” linebacker Nigel Bradham said. “They couldn’t give us what we were looking for.”

    Under the new rule, a player will be penalized 15 yards and potentially fined or ejected for lowering his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.

    During the presentation, which lasted close to an hour according to Bradham, players were shown clips of what are now considered illegal hits — some of which appeared to them as routine tackles.

    Seeking further clarification during the Q&A that followed, the players showed the presenters a video of safety Malcolm Jenkins’ hit on wide receiver Brandin Cooks during Super Bowl LII that knocked Cooks out of the game. The refs were split on whether it would now be considered an illegal hit.

    “I’m going to make that play 10 times out of 10. If it’s a flag, it’s a flag,” Jenkins said after practice Sunday, adding that he doesn’t believe that hit would lead to an ejection under the current policy. “You can’t slow yourself down thinking about rules in a split second. The game happens really, really fast, faster than the rules, I think, take account for, but I won’t let it affect the way I play.”

    The rule applies to not only tacklers but linemen and ball carriers as well. The concern for running backs is that they are going to have to retrain themselves after years of attacking a certain way.

    “It’s going to take a different approach to learn as individuals how to keep our head up and see what we’re doing,” Matt Jones, a 6-foot-2, 239-pound power back said. “But it’s going to be kind of hard because we’re taught to run through guys and put our helmet where their number is at. It’s like if it’s a third-and-1 and you have to have it, and you meet in the hole, there’s no way possible you’re not going to meet head-on-head and helmet-on-helmet.”

    The meeting between the Eagles and refs was described as spirited, with the players expressing consternation over the new rule.

    “[The refs] were kind of like, ‘Hey, we didn’t make the rules.’ Because I think guys were kind of frustrated,” running back Wendell Smallwood said. “Most of the defense was like, ‘Man, how are we supposed to tackle?’ They were frustrated.”

    Added Jones: “It was definitely going back and forth. ‘We’re running backs, and we can’t do that?’ And, ‘We’re a defense; how are [we] supposed to tackle?’ We didn’t get an answer we wanted. We just have to abide by the rules and keep from getting fined and ejected.”

    The refs told the players that they watched six games and found only three instances in which the new rule would come into play. Still, there is concern from some players that the policy will both slow the game down and hit them in the pocket.

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