EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants today came face-to-face with the NFL's new helmet rule.
Referee Jerome Boger led a four-man league officiating crew who worked practice to start a three-day visit. In separate presentations, the officials showed the players and coaches and media representatives a video highlighting NFL rules changes for 2018.
The change that has received the most scrutiny is the rule that makes it illegal for a player to lower his head to initiate and make contact with the helmet on an opponent. The contact is not limited to an opponent's head or neck area, and the lowering of the head and initiating contact to a player's torso, hips and lower body is also considered an infraction.
The new rule was implemented in late March at the annual owners meeting. The penalties for a violation include a loss of 15 yards or ejection. The rule was devised to make the game safer for the players.
"I am all for player safety and I'm all for us playing and coaching a game that is still very fun for the fans to watch but safe for the players," coach Pat Shurmur said. "We have talked about the use of the head, how we don't want it, and how it can't be a part of our game."
NFL officiating crews visit every team's training camp each summer. The officials always answer many questions regarding the rules. But the new directive regarding helmet hits might set a record. Several players throughout the league have said they aren't certain what is and what isn't legal, and they've also questioned how the officials will be able to make that determination in the heat of a game.
"It will be interesting to see defensively," Giants linebacker Alec Ogletree said. "It's kind of tough for us to take our heads out of it as much as possible. I understand why they are trying to do it, but at the same time, it's definitely something I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of impact it has.
"You have to adjust as much as you can. You won't be perfect but you have to try to adjust your game to fit the rules. I think we will do that once the time comes."
Boger said the officials will be able to spot a violation of the rule just as they do any other infraction.
"There are attributes that will jump out to us as officials that we'll look for," said Boger, who is entering his 13th season as an NFL referee. "One was the lowering of the head, that linear position. I get back to, they want you to see what you tackle. If you can see what you tackle, it kind of eliminates the problem. But when we as officials see that head go down, our tentacles are going to go up, and let's see where we're going with this."
In five seasons with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams, Ogletree was credited with 475 solo tackles, and 645 stops overall. He might have to devise a different strategy to bring down opposing players.
"We talked about it a little bit in the linebacker room," Ogletree said. "Just how to set it up for as far as a linebacker taking on a guard, tackle or something like that, that kind of helmet to helmet contact is illegal. It's going to be tough for us, for sure.
"Pretty much throughout the league everybody is trying to adjust the way guys tackle, keeping your head out of it. Like I said, it's a physical game, and you are definitely going to have some type of head contact, I don't care how much you try to change it."
*Beyonce and Jay Z were among the reasons the Giants today practiced in the morning for the first time in this training camp. The musical superstars are headlining concerts tonight and tomorrow in MetLife Stadium.
"We basically did it for the fans," coach Pat Shurmur said of the time change. "As you know, there's a big concert tonight in the stadium. There would've been parking issues for the fans. We wanted to make sure that they had a Giants experience today. We practiced in the morning. About half the teams in the league practice in the morning. I've been other places where we did that.
"I like, especially early in camp, to practice in the afternoon because you have your meetings, you have your walk-thrus, you have another meeting, then you have practice. So, it's kind of the full process of learning. This part of training camp, I kind of like changing the schedule because now most of the installations are in. We can practice in the morning and change the schedule. I encourage the players to remember it's not sudden change, but it's change – and they have to deal with it. We've got to perform at a high level."
Wide receiver Sterling Shepard was among the players who welcomed the schedule change.
"I think it's good to have a changeup," Shepard said. "You kind of get used to the same routine and it kind of gets to you as a player, so switching things up was good for us. We just got to bring the energy we brought for the afternoon practices for the morning as well."
*Shepard on his constant practice conversations with Odell Beckham, Jr.:
"I think it's all about technique most of the time (laughs)," Shepard said. "Yeah, most of the time it's about technique or what I was thinking on some route or what he was thinking or whatever is coming up in the script, and what we're excited for. We're always just picking each other's brain. I'm always picking his brain, for sure. Trying to see what he's thinking or what he thought about whatever just happened, or whatever I just did."
*Shurmur said he has been impressed with Kalif Raymond, a wideout who has received little attention but has made several eye-opening catches in camp. The coach began noticing Raymond in the spring drills.
"He's made plays," Shurmur said. "He's got a good knack for playing in the slot and he made a couple big plays today, so yes, he has done a very nice job."
*Like all coaches, Shurmur preaches catching the ball with two hands. But the coaches do run a drill in which any potential receiver practices one-handed catches.
"I think it is important that we catch the football and just like any drill it simulates or helps simulate what might happen at some point," Shurmur said. "The reason they work that drill is there will be times when they're running down the field, and I know that corners don't hold, but there are times when their one arm is obstructed, so they have to make an effort to catch it with one hand. So that's really the nature of that drill. … Dropping balls, we can't do it. Whether it's an interception that can change the game or the obvious, receivers catching it from quarterbacks, we have to be a team that catches the ball well and then that will really, really help affect the outcome of games."