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Like Train in Vain as the hidden caboose on London Calling, the NFL deftly slipped the new helmet rule into the list of proposed 2018 rule changes, item No. 11 on a 10-proposal list. And that initial cloak of secrecy has followed the new helmet rule for nearly three months since it made a sudden debut.

As explained by Dom Cosentino of, the new helmet rule could dramatically change football as we know it. He’s one of the few (only) to see it that way. And, of course, I’m sharing his take in this space because I’m one of the few (only) to see it that way, too.

Consentino has learned from the league that the rule itself won’t appear as a new provision in the rulebook. Instead, the new helmet rule results from the removal of only three words from one of the many ways that a player can be penalized for unnecessary roughness. Of the 10 different types of unnecessary roughness, item (i) has been changed from “using any part of a player’s helmet or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily” to “using any part of a player’s helmet to butt, spear, or ram an opponent.”

In other words, the NFL has removed the key words “violently or unnecessarily.”

Which, of course, doesn’t make sense. If the butting, spearing, or ramming isn’t violent or unnecessary, how can it be unnecessary roughness? And why bury this potentially dramatic change in a portion of the rule book that articulates instances of unnecessary roughness by expressly removing the words “unnecessary” and “violent” (i.e., roughness) from the definition of the prohibited act?

It’s just another example of the scavenger hunt that the new helmet rule has become, a quest complicated by plenty of influential people claiming that there’s no cause for concern while the reasons to be concerned continue to pile up.

If the rule is consistently enforced as written, with all non-violent and necessary instances of butting, ramming, or spearing drawing a flag, the game definitely will change, especially in the trenches. If the rule isn’t consistently enforced as written, yet another arbitrary rule potentially will potentially mar the outcome of games when the foul isn’t called on one key play but is called during another.

Just in time for the proliferation of legalized gambling.

The new helmet rule has the potential to be a mess, because it already is a mess. At very best for the NFL, another significant disconnect will exist between the language of a rule and its application, creating way too much discretion and, in turn, an opportunity for officiating shenanigans. At worst, the helmet will be taken out of the game to the point where it will become glorified two-hand touch with linemen in two-point stances and the table set for a second fall football league to embrace the game the way it used to be played — and to siphon off NFL fans who will potentially reach their personal breaking points regarding an evolution of safety rules that may soon become a revolution.

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ASHBURN, Va. — There was nothing spectacular that took place, just quarterback Alex Smith doing his job. That meant getting rid of the ball in time; that meant anticipating receivers’ cuts; and that meant no turnovers. There was one excellent deep ball for a long completion. But, overall, it was just Smith showing why the Washington Redskins traded for him.

This is his third team and yet another new offense. But he’s just here to do his part, and he’s not worried about more changes.

“Ball is ball,” he said.

The OTA sessions have allowed Smith and the Redskins’ offense to take another step in their progression, finally working against the defense. It’s helped reveal more of what the Redskins can expect.

“He’s got good command of the offense already,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “Great command in the huddle. He’s just getting a feel for the receivers, the players around him, how we call things, but I’m very pleased with his quick progression and learning. I knew that wouldn’t be an issue with as much as he’s played in a similar-style system. It’s just a matter of him getting used to the players around him.”
Alex Smith’s reputation is as a solid game manager. But at this time of the season, he likes to take his chances downfield. Nick Wass/AP Photo
Smith, entering his 14th season, understands how to make a transition to a new offense. He joked that his offense in Kansas City and his new one are “Latin-based languages. There are similarities, structure of the playbook, how we call things, but it’s not the same language.”

He didn’t come across like someone who was confused by the offense. Nor did he hesitate with his throws when he spotted his target.

“He’s very decisive,” Redskins receiver Paul Richardson said. “He’s not second-guessing and he’s trusting us to make it out of our break to meet the ball. He’s putting the ball in great spots with great timing. For it to be this early, we can only go up from here.”

Spring brings natural optimism, and for the Redskins it’s in part because of Smith. He did not tuck the ball and run during 7-on-7 work; in fact, he scrambled only one time before stopping at the line and hitting receiver Josh Doctson. There were crisp outs to slot receiver Jamison Crowder, though one of them was nearly picked by corner Orlando Scandrick.
Smith, coming off his best season throwing the deep ball, showed he’s willing to continue that trend. The Redskins signed the speedy Richardson in the offseason and the two connected on Wednesday. Smith twice threw to Richardson — he wasn’t wide open either time, but he still unloaded a pass. The first one resulted in what would have been a 45-yard completion.

Another ended with corner Quinton Dunbar breaking up the pass. Richardson wasn’t open, but Smith gave him a chance. At season’s end, Gruden said he wanted Kirk Cousins to show more trust in his receivers. Gruden said there were times in practice when Cousins checked down when “I’m like, just let it fly.” Smith let it fly — not every time, but on these particular plays.

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“Certainly this time of year, I think there’s something to be said about pushing it a little bit,” Smith said. “When we get to camp and real ball, you can kind of rein that in a little. I think this time of year, there’s something to be said about taking some chances down the field and taking some opportunities.”

On Wednesday, as in many games Smith plays, there were no interceptions. He hasn’t thrown more than eight picks in a season since 2010.
“He brings a game manager,” Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger said. “He definitely brings less turnovers, for sure. Only having five interceptions last year is something as a defender I love because I know I’m not going to be on the field the majority of the game. He’s a smart quarterback. He’s a leader and you can tell that, seeing how he leads the guys and throws the ball around. He’s going to help us win, for sure.”

Smith is not a demonstrative player. After plays he’d chat with a receiver or two about what had just happened or he’d stand alongside quarterbacks coach Kevin O’Connell. Smith was doing what he’s always done, whether that was in San Francisco, Kansas City or Washington.

“I know guys respect work ethic and they respect the guys that are invested and committed, and for me, it’s really just doing that,” he said. “Putting in the time, being myself, getting to know these guys.”

And he doesn’t expect a break just because it’s his first season in Washington.

“Nobody cares,” Smith said. “It’s not like in the fall, you guys are going to be like, ‘Ah, well, this is his first year here. We’ll give him a break.’ … Playing this long, you feel like you’ve got a good grasp on it. There has to be a sense of urgency.”