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Defense Faces Challenge Of Today's NFL

Posted Aug 2, 2014

Bill Davis knows the preseason games may get a little bit messy. The NFL intends to further crack down on the defense, and every team is going to feel the pain ...

Bill Davis knows the preseason games may get a little bit messy. The NFL intends to further crack down on the defense, and every team is going to feel the pain.

"There are going to be some penalties in the preseason. I can see that happening," said Davis, the Eagles' defensive coordinator who had a taste of it in Training Camp the last couple of days with NFL officials on hand. "We're still going to be a physical defense, and it's just that we have to make sure we're doing the right things within the rules."

NFL officials have made it known that they are going to emphasize illegal contact and defensive holding this season. Defensive backs and players in coverage, already hampered through the years by rules permitting more and more freedom for offensive skill position players, are going to be even more challenged in 2014.

Here are the rules, as defined by the official NFL rule book:

ILLEGAL CONTACT WITHIN FIVE YARDS OF LINE

Within the 5-yard zone, a defender may not make original contact in the back of a receiver, nor may he use his hands or arms to hang onto or encircle a receiver. The defender cannot extend an arm(s) to cut off or hook a receiver causing contact that impedes and restricts the receiver as the play develops, nor may he maintain contact after the receiver has moved beyond a point that is even with the defender.

ILLEGAL CONTACT BEYOND 5-YARD ZONE

Beyond the 5-yard zone, if the player who receives the snap remains in the pocket with the ball, a defender may use his hands or arms only to defend or protect himself against impending contact caused by a receiver. If the receiver attempts to evade the defender, the defender cannot chuck him, or extend an arm(s) to cut off or hook him, causing contact that
redirects, restricts, or impedes the receiver in any way.

The NFL also plans to crack down on offensive pass interference, so it's going to be interesting to see how the dynamic plays out on the field in the heat of the moment. In the meantime, defenses are going to have a learning curve.

"We have to play our technique and be consistent with it," said cornerback Brandon Boykin. "Be aggressive and be physical within the rules. It's not easy, but that's our job so we have to go out and do it. I'm not worried about it. I'm going to be ready."

The NFL actually tweaked the way the pass-coverage rules were officiated in 2004. The league wanted less pulling and pushing and bumping and grinding between defensive backs and receivers, and the number of illegal contact fouls increased from 79 to 191, according to Mike Pereira, former Vice President of Officiating in the National Football League and currently the rules analyst at FOX Sports.

Now, defensive players could be even more restricted.

"We'll have to adjust. There's no way around it," said Davis. "It's something we're working on every day. We are not going to back off, but we want to do it the right way."

The Eagles like their corners to press at the line of scrimmage and to be physical at the snap of the ball. One half step out of position means the risk of reaching and grabbing a jersey increases, and a yellow flag follows. So, playing big at the line of scrimmage and making sure hands are in the right place and the feet are moving is essential.

"Football is football and it's my job to cover the receiver," said cornerback Cary Williams. "I like the progress we're making on defense. That's what I'm focusing on. I've played a certain way for my entire career and that's who I am. I know the rules and I have to play within them."

Keep an eye on it, and prepare for some interruptions in the preseason games as teams -- and officials -- learn just how far defensive backs can go before the flags are dropped.

"Just go out and use the right technique and play," said cornerback Nolan Carroll II. "The game has changed over the years and we understand how it works. You can't let it change the things you do well. As a defensive back, you have to make sure to know what the officials are going to let you do."

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