Analysis: Football coaches break down the new rules

As the high school football season kicks off this week, football coaches across the state have been addressing certain rule changes with their players. The rules are designed to help make the game safer.

The biggest football rule change is with regards to the “allowable level of contact on a blindside block” and is aimed at increasing player safety. A blindside block involves contact by a blocker against an opponent who, because of physical positioning and focus of concentration (for example, while following a ball carrier on a kickoff return), is vulnerable to injury by a block coming from outside his field of vision.

“We appreciate the fact that the MHSAA is trying to make the game safer,” said Brian Lewis, head coach at Father Gabriel Richard. “Blindside blocks are essentially a hit against a defenseless player. It will be hard to break a habit seen and performed for years, but we have talked about the new rule changes in hopes to eliminate that play.”

Blindside blocks now must be initiated with open hands only; blindside contact that is forceful and initiated with other parts of the body outside of the free blocking zone will be penalized as excessive and unnecessary.

Pioneer coach Bill Bellers says he is “back and forth” on the blind-side block.

“These have been clean blocks for as long as I have played and coached as long as the blocker got in front,” he said. “I am glad it is still legal, just not sure if it is going to always be easy for players to make the block with open hands. So what was considered to be a legal block before will now cost teams 15 yards. I do understand it is for the safety of our players, so this is something we are going to have to emphasize in practice as much as possible.”

Bellers says they don’t really teach a blindside block but it is something that happens in certain scenarios, like punt returns in which they will continually remind and reiterate to the players to hit with open hands in that situation.

In addition to redefining the blindside block, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) sought to also minimize risk by eliminating the pop-up kick – that is, any free kick during which the kicker drives the ball immediately to the ground, causing it to bounce only once and into the air similar to the flight of a ball kicked directly off the tee.

“I have no qualms against the pop-up kick rule, there are other onside type kicks to use,” Bellers said. “I understand it because it makes the person trying to catch the ball very vulnerable.”

Another rule change states that non-contact face guarding is no longer considered pass interference.

Bellers says that change is nice as a defensive coach.

“As I remember very early on in my career as a defensive coordinator where my player had great coverage on a WR in the end zone he just never turned his head and we got flagged and it cost us,” he said. “So it is nice that as long as the defender makes no contact he does not have to turn and look to the ball.”

Other rules changes in football include:

  • A defensive player will be called for encroachment for striking the offensive snapper’s hand or arm, or the ball, prior to the snapper releasing the ball to begin a play.

    • A team accepting a penalty during the final two minutes of either half now will have the option of re-starting the clock at the snap of the ball rather than the referee’s ready-for-play signal.

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