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Zimmer, Smith: Rules Changes Could Be Game-Changers

EAGAN, Minn. — The preseason offers teams with multiple opportunities to learn about players, schemes and — in 2018, particularly — new rules.

The Vikings were awarded a 15-yard penalty on Saturday when officials ruled that cornerback A.J. Bouye led with his helmet to initiate contact with fullback C.J. Ham after a pass completion.

The penalty turned a second-and-21 into a first-and-10 at the Jacksonville 26-yard line and moved the Vikings within field-goal range.

Asked if he had a better understanding of the new rules, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said, "No, quite honestly, no."

Zimmer told media members Monday that — even though Minnesota benefited from the call — he submitted that play to the NFL for a deeper explanation of the ruling.

"The guy is tackling him around his legs, and he had his head to the side for the most part," Zimmer said. "I actually sent that in, to ask them, 'Why was this called?' Then you see other places, because I go through the tape with the other coaches, I said, 'I wonder if this is a penalty, I wonder if this is a penalty.' "

Zimmer referenced Vikings VP of Football and Media Communications Bob Hagan, who was standing to the coach's left, to make his point.

"I think it's very hard to tackle a guy, you know, Bob is running down here and I try to tackle him around his thigh or his waist, my head is probably going to go down," Zimmer said. "I'm going to get it to the side, but it's probably going to make contact with something."

Zimmer then brought up other potential plays where the helmet rule may or may not come into effect, like an offensive lineman cut blocking at the line of scrimmage or blocking for a screen.

"A lineman runs out on a screen, and he goes and cuts the linebacker or the safety, is that a penalty? Because I don't know how you can dive like that," Zimmer said.

Safety Harrison Smith was asked if Bouye could have done anything differently and said, "I don't really think so."

"I want to drive home the point that, especially as defensive players and as ball carriers, we want to make the game as safe as you can make it," Smith immediately added. "No matter what, it is football and we are out there hitting. It's not always going to be possible. We're not resistant to these changes; they just need to be physically possible, I guess."

Smith said he understands penalties for "egregious" plays when a player has his head down and is in a linear posture.

"There are other ones that I think from a rational standpoint, they don't make sense," Smith said. "I think those needs to continue to be worked on. Otherwise, it is going to be almost every play."

Smith had an opportunity on a blitz to hit Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles but appeared to have a slight hesitation.

Asked about the play Monday, he said, "No, just trying to figure out to get my hands up or not."

"I could have done that better, definitely," Smith said. "As far as the rule goes, we want to adjust to things. We want to adapt and do it the right way, but you can't let it slow you down, as well, because you still have to go make your plays. If you are doing everything in your power to play within those rules, even though they are very muddy right now, you still have to play full speed."

As for Vikings offensive players, Adam Thielen said he hasn't been a huge fan of the new helmet rule. Thielen said he's been more affected so far by watching Minnesota's defense and wondering if a flag will be thrown.

"Every tackle kind of gives you a weird feeling, which is not great, it's not my favorite thing," Thielen said.

"I think the biggest thing about it that worries me is in critical game situations," Thielen said. "Your defense makes a big stop and all of a sudden, boom, there's a flag thrown for something that shouldn't be a flag. That's the stuff that really worries me. You're hoping that it's just because it's the preseason that there are all these flags thrown and that they're trying to make a point, and in the regular season they'll try to not throw as many, but you just don't really know."

The only certainty for Smith is the belief that the helmet rule will change outcomes of games.

"It is going to happen. Without a doubt, that is going to happen," Smith said. "If you get a big sack, that changes field position, that changes, maybe getting a guy out of field goal range, get them on third-and-long or something like that, or get off the field on third down. Then it's a whole new set of downs. It is going to change games."

Defensive tackle Linval Joseph concurred.

"A big play at a critical time of a game can cost a game," Joseph said. "A sack that is miscalled or overcalled and give up that sack and give them a first down, it could be a critical play of a game – and any team can lose a game with that."

The Vikings haven't had a helmet penalty called against them in two preseason games, but they have seen plenty around the league. The team used part of Monday's practice to work on the approved tackling technique.

"Yeah, it's going to cost some people some jobs," Zimmer said. "Playoffs, jobs, the whole bit, I'm guessing. We haven't had any called on us so far. It's just hard to figure out. No one has ever said to me, 'Hey, don't worry, we're going to call less,' or 'We're going to straighten out in the regular season,' or 'We're going to come up with a revised rule.' No one has ever said that.

"Sometimes, with the illegal contact a few years ago, in the preseason there were hundreds of flags, and then they backed off of it a little bit," Zimmer said. "I don't know if that's what they'll do or not."