Football is often called the ultimate team game, 11 players working in sync in an effort to create one outcome on 70 to 90 plays in one period of 60 minutes.
On the flip side, 11 players are also working in sync to prevent that outcome.
Those players are aggressive in pursuit of their goal. They run fast, hit hard. Or at least they used to.
Now they run fast, reevaluate their position on the run, make a decision in a fraction of a second and adjust their angle or apply the brakes the best they can.
Or if they don’t do all those things they’re called for targeting and subject to suspension for half a football game or more.
Rules have been re-written in the interest of player safety, and nobody’s going to argue about that.
Coaches have had to modify their teaching, and players have had to make adjustments.
Practice makes perfect?
“We work on it all the time,” Ole Miss defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre said. “We have bags that we hit in the targeting area.
“We tackle the sled. We have drills that we actually break and come at it. We have sack drills that we actually work on it with.”
At the end of the day there’s no real workable solution for the defense. As offensive players become bigger and faster do you really want your defensive guys to arrive later?
And if they are going full speed is it realistic to expect them to make meaningful changes in an instant? Not really.
You can coach angles, keep your head up and “see what you hit.” That will help some, but then you get a sliding player who changes his trajectory, and you have helmet to helmet contact.
That’s what happened with inside linebacker Jacquez Jones, and Ole Miss will be without Jones for the first half against Texas A&M.
His loss will be for a much shorter period of time than Mohamad Sanogo, who broke an ankle early in the season. But for two quarters in a game the Rebels really need to win to entertain serious hopes of bowl-eligibility, they will be without two starting inside linebackers.
As defensive players have evolved offensive players, the sneaky ones, have learned how to use the increased emphasis on safety to their advantage • even when there’s no clear and present danger.
The Jones hit on Kelly Bryant, Missouri’s sliding quarterback, was a fluke thing with soft contact, but it was helmet to helmet.
MacIntyre often sees quarterbacks along the sidelines try to take advantage of that gray decision-making area for defensive players.
“A lot of quarterbacks near the sideline hold up to try and draw that. When you hit a quarterback on the sideline it seems like there’s more of a reaction than if you hit a tailback or a receiver,” MacIntyre said.
Therein lies the problem.
The game has changed, and improved safety awareness is important.
Coaches have changed, and players have changed.
And with it, the keepers of the game should change.
Officials should have more leeway in trying to determine the intentions of the sliding quarterback or the one who pulls up on the sideline.
If defensive players can make split-second evaluations they can too.