Alabama’s defense has made the rule a point of emphasis in practice. With the potential of playing time being taken away for a hit ruled illegal, Tide safety Vinnie Sunseri said the new rule is being taught at every turn.
“You take it from the film room to practice and when you look at the practice film you take it back to the meeting room,” he said. “Both aspects. You’ve got to be smart with how you do certain things.”
Sunseri is known as a big hitter. He made a name for himself with big hits on special teams as a freshmen. He always plays a position where he would come in contact with a lot of “defenseless” receivers, but he said he still is going to play hard and fast.
“As a practice standpoint, no, I’m going full speed every single time,” he said. “But at the same time, coach Saban has definitely looked at me and told me I’ve got to be smart with how I approach tackles and how I approach tackling people when they’re up in the air and going for the football. That’s something we’ve worked on during the summer and something we’ve definitely took a focus on and it’s looking good so far.”
Sunseri said he hasn’t altered his style of play so far. He said he doesn’t have to fight his natural instinct to make a big hit.
“No, as long as you have your head up, looking at the guy’s numbers and you’re doing everything you’re taught in Pop Warner and like my dad taught me, you should be OK,” he said.
Still, at the end of the day, the issue of player safety remains paramount.
“As a player, I think the players are concerned because the players don’t want to do anything that is going to hurt another player, Sunseri said. They don’t want to do anything that’s going to get a penalty or get them ejected or whatever. I think as a coach we want to be able to define that so it’s not an issue for a player in terms of what he’s thinking about with the players.”
Saban emphasized a point Thursday he has made often -- that the rule leaves a lot of room for personal interpretation.
“I see this sort of lots of stuff going on around there that makes me nervous about how are all these judgments going to get made and is everybody going to be on the same page?” Saban said. “As a coach, I’m concerned.”
A much-discussed play is the one in which South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney engulfed Michigan running back Vincent Smith last season.
That hit might be illegal, according to the new targeting rule.
Clowney’s 6-foot-6, 274-pound frame leveled Smith -- who stands 5-6 and weighs 176 pounds -- and sent his helmet flying.
However, questions of whether Smith a defenseless player or if Clowney went helmet-to-helmet have been raised.
“When I see Clowney’s play on TV, and they say he would have been suspended for that, that’s not the way it was explained to me,” Saban said. “Look, I’m all for player safety. I don’t want to hit anybody in the head and I don’t want our players to hit anybody in the head and I don’t want anybody to go helmet-to-helmet on any play. But the rule is to protect an unprotected player. Running back running the ball up the middle, he’s not unprotected.”