The NFL is changing, and a lot of it has to do with stronger player-safety rules.
The league recently introduced a rule designed to increase player safety. However, it may also lead to a lot of players getting kicked out of games in the same way we see in college football, where players are ejected for targeting the helmet of other players.
Here is the language of the new rule, which is Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8:
“It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.
“Penalty: Loss of 15 yards. If the foul is by the defense, it is also an automatic first down. The player may be disqualified.”
So in other words, if a defender initiates helmet-to-helmet contact, he can now be ejected from games.
As you can imagine, hard-hitting NFL defenders are not a fan of this rule, and that includes Bengals safety George Iloka.
The Cincinnati Enquirer recently spoke with Iloka about the new player-safety rules, and as you can imagine, he thinks they could be disastrous.
“I don’t know how you’re going to play the game,” Iloka told the Enquirer. “We’ll still play but we’ll just be getting thrown out I guess. We’ll see.
“They say things a lot of times. They talked about the running backs and them leading with their head but they called that play one time and those guys, they’re not going to give you the chin. They’re literally taught ‘run behind your pads.’ What does that mean? No, seriously. What does that mean? If you run behind your pads where’s your head? Your pads are in front and your head’s behind you? That doesn’t make sense. Just trying to think about it. They put in a lot of things, they say a lot of things, but enforcing it and having an actual way to coach it is a whole ‘nother thing. We’ll see.”
Iloka has had several helmet-to-helmet hits throughout his NFL career, the most recent being on Steelers receiver Antonio Brown in the end zone during the teams’ Week 13 matchup in 2017. It was flagged for a 15-yard personal foul, but it did not lead to Iloka being ejected. He was actually suspended for Week 14, but after appealing the ruling, the suspension was lifted as he only had to pay a fine.
But with the new rules, it’s safe to think that hit could have easily gotten Iloka kicked out of the game. It doesn’t sound like he’s exactly ready to adjust his game to the new rule.
Perhaps that’s why the Bengals spent a second-round pick on Wake Forest safety Jessie Bates in this year’s draft. Bates is more of a ball hawk who made a lot of pass deflections and interceptions throughout his college career. But Bates wasn’t the kind of hitter Iloka is, so perhaps the Bengals could see Bates as an eventual replacement if Iloka can’t adjust to the new rules. Your best ability is availability, so if Iloka can’t follow the rules and stay on the field, the Bengals may already have his replacement in the fold.
Hopefully, Iloka adjusts to the new rules and continues to make a positive impact on the Bengals’ defense, while Bates works his way into the rotation as a third safety.
“Every time I get cracked by a receiver, I’m not looking,” Iloka said. “Doesn’t that technically make me defenseless? You get cracked you get hit in your upper body. If you reverse that and had that been a receiver with the ball and you hit him above the shoulders they’re calling it every time. I doubt it. We’ll see.”