By Tim Graham
The Buffalo Bills player most affected by the NFL's new helmet rule is disappointed in the development -- for him and the evolution of the game.
"Everybody I've talked to is not happy about it," Bills running back Fred Jackson told me today, a couple hours after the NFL adopted a rule that prevents ball carriers from using the crowns of their helmets to initiate contact in the open field.
The penalty will be a 15-yard personal foul and would subject the offender to league fines.
"More than anything," Jackson said, "it may just have to be something that you have to eliminate from your game and determine what you want to do before you get put in those situations. Guys will have to move along or be fined."
Jackson already had settled on his course.
"I'm just going to set aside some fine money because I know I'll probably get fined a couple of times," Jackson said. "It's hard for a person to change who they are when they're running the football. I like to consider myself a physical back."
The rule is a safety measure at a time when the NFL faces increased scrutiny over traumatic head injuries and is coping with civil litigation that involves scores of former players.
Jackson, 32, claimed players don't need to be protected from themselves, as St. Louis Rams coach and NFL competition committee member Jeff Fisher declared necessary when explaining the new rule.
"It's a contact sport," Jackson said. "We know that when we sign our names on the dotted line. We're going to put ourselves in harm's way. We wear pads for a reason.
"They're trying to do a good job of protecting us, but that's what drew us to the sport, being able to go out there and be in physical combat with somebody else. A lot of guys play this sport instead of basketball or baseball because we get to go out there and knock the crap out of each other for three hours and see who comes out on top."
A runner or defender now will be penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct when initiating forcible contact with the crown of his helmet. Both players clearly must be outside the tackle box. The tackle box is an area that spans tackle-to-tackle, from 3 yards beyond the line of scrimmage all the way back to the goal line in the opposite direction.
Incidental contact would not be a penalty, but that will be determined by officials on the field. No matter how much the NFL defines the infraction, enforcement will be subjective in a high-speed environment.
"It changes the game," Jackson said. "You're going to second-guess yourself when you're in the open field. When you're one-on-one with a guy who's going to lower his shoulder into you, now you can't lower your head.
"If you lower your shoulder and make the wrong contact with him, you're going to get the penalty. It's just going to play in the back of your mind."
Jackson has seen the plays posted on the Press Coverage blog of Walter Payton and Earl Campbell -- set to dramatic NFL Films music -- using their heads as battering rams to produce two of the most memorable runs the game has seen.
"Growing up, you wanted to be that," Jackson said. "You wanted to be a punishing running back that guys knew they had to be prepared for.
"It changes the NFL. It's evolving into a different game, and this rule change is a part of that. You won't see any of those runs and have them celebrated like they were."