NFL debates rule change for running backs

NFL helmets

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Aaron Hernandez of the New England Patriots has his helmet ripped off by David Harris of the New York Jets on October 9, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

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by GEORGE RIBA

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WFAA

Posted on March 19, 2013 at 10:47 PM

DALLAS — NFL owners are trying to decide whether to adopt a rule which would penalize running backs for using the crown of their helmets against defenders.

“I think they need to rethink it,” said former Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett. "This is what they need to do. They have to rethink this rule."

The rule would be enforced on plays outside the tackle box. It's a technique that's virtually ingrained in the running style of the league’s top backs, including former Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith.

"This has to be one of the most absurd rules I’ve heard in a long time in the game of football," said Smith, who made his comments on ESPN's "Mike and Mike Show."

"I don't think any football player is really going out there to hit with the crown of their head. Naturally, I’ve been taught to run with a forward lean," Smith said.

"It's not a good rule," Dorsett added. "But protection of players, I’m for it 100 percent, but that's not a good one."

Previous rule changes designed to enhance safety usually put the defenders at a disadvantage. This rule change — if approved — would reverse that trend, and could actually put players on the offensive side of the ball on the defense.

"Well, if a guy is going to run around with his head sticking straight up in the air and he can't tuck it down, that gives me a target if I'm trying to tackle him," said former Cowboys defensive tackle Randy White. "I mean, that makes my life easy as a defensive guy."

"You've got to understand that rules that are based on player safety are not based first and foremost on quality of game," said Rich McKay, chairman of the NFL rules committee. "They're based on the player’s safety."

"We've always been taught the same thing," said former Cowboys safety Darren Woodson. "You find a way to get the guy on the ground. We've had to change the aspect of knowing where our helmet placement is, using our shoulders, using more of our arms to tackle."

"It's been a huge adjustment for safeties and linebackers, and we're still going through that process," Woodson added. "So if the safeties and linebackers can go through that change, then the running backs can go through the same change. I don't have a problem with the rule change and that rule being in place."

"One of the biggest ways that a running back can protect himself is through his shoulder pads and helmet, and it’s kind of hard to do one without the other," Dorsett noted.

A vote on the rule change was supposed to take place this week, but it may be delayed until the next NFL meeting in May.

E-mail griba@wfaa.com

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