Targeting penalty forces Mavs to focus more on tackling techniques

Colorado Mesa’s Travis McRae, left, demonstrates tackling with the crown of the helmet, an ejectionable offense, on teammate Blaine Jackson.

Travis McRae demonstrates the correct tackling technique on Colorado Mesa teammate Blaine Jackson during a recent practice.

The Colorado Mesa University football team made the adjustment to a new coaching staff, a new offense and defense.

Now, the Mavericks are learning to make adjustments to a new set of NCAA rules.

There are 11 rule changes, but the most significant one is the ejection of a player for targeting with the crown of the helmet and targeting to the head/neck of a defenseless player. It was a 15-yard penalty last year.

Targeting is when a player hits an opposing player in the head and neck area by initiating contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm or shoulder.

Targeting was an unpopular rule with defensive players and coaches before the addition of disqualification this year.

“When you’re a defensive guy, you don’t necessarily agree with the rules, but that’s where the game is changing,” CMU defensive coordinator Todd Auer said. “It’s trickling down from the NFL. I understand why they’re doing it, not that I like it.”

There were a reported 10 targeting ejections — three were overturned — from Division I FBS games last week alone.

“There are several things that indicate it’s targeting,” CMU coach Russ Martin said. “It’s more of a standpoint they are thrusting into a guy instead of going for a tackle and leading with the crown of the head.

“We’re trying to get our guys to understand what makes it a high risk so we can decrease the situation of a chance of it being a bad thing.”

If it happens in the first half, the player is disqualified for the remainder of the game. If it happens in the second half, that player is disqualified for the remainder of the game and the first half of the next game.

In Division I, the disqualification is subject to review by instant replay. In Division II, the level Colorado Mesa plays, there is no instant replay. The conference may appeal the suspension for the first half of the next game on a second-half ejection to the national coordinator of football officials, who would review the play on video.

“The only bad thing about Division II is you can’t review it,” Auer said. “I asked the (Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) head of officials. The only thing they can do is that game they’re out that game, but if it’s the next game, they’ll review (the play) and it can be reversed. When it’s happening that fast, officials can make mistakes.”

Auer, who has been a defensive coordinator for 18 years, prides himself of teaching the proper tackling techniques to avoid a targeting foul.

That has become more difficult with the evolution of spread offenses.

“We’ve always taught to tackle with the head up and run your feet, but with a wide-open spread game like it is, you can’t tackle that way all the time,” Auer said. “There are times you cut tackle (taking legs out). We’ve always taught (to keep the head up as if you were) biting the ball.”

The hardest thing for football players, especially defensive backs, is avoiding the opportunity to flatten a wide receiver coming across the middle of the field.

“It’s honestly going to be a tough rule to adapt to,” Mesa junior safety Travis McRae said. “A big thing as a defensive back is we’re taught to eliminate routes if he’s not looking. We can’t eliminate routes now. We have to block them off with our body. It’s a big change. It’s something we have to adapt to. We have to follow it.”

“It effects the entire game play,” sophomore safety Isaac Koch said. “You can’t go high on a guy, which is how we were taught all through high school and middle school. They’re changing it now. In the end, it’s a good thing to protect everybody. We do have to focus because we don’t want to hurt our team by getting a 15-yard penalty and hurt the team even more by getting ejected for the rest of the game.”

Another major rule change is offensive blocking below the waist. The rule establishes a zone for the offense that extends seven yards from the snapper toward each sideline and goes five yards into the defensive secondary and behind the line all the way back to the offensive team’s end line.

An offensive player may not block below the waist if the force of the initial contacted is from the side or back.

“As long as you’re in front of the person from the 10 to 2 o’clock angles, you’re OK,” Martin said. “You can’t come from the side (to block).”

Another rule change is a 10-second runoff for an injury-only timeout late in the half. If the team with the injured player calls a timeout for another reason, the 10-second runoff does not apply.

“It’s a good rule,” Martin said. “There were too many trying to bend the rules.”

Other rule changes include allowing players with a helmet malfunction to remain in the game if the team is granted a charged timeout to adjust the helmet. Previously, any player that removes his helmet for any reason must leave the game for at least one down. The minimum time to spike the ball for another play is set at three seconds. Players may change jersey numbers during a game, but must report it to the referee and may not wear the same number of another player in the same position.


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