*From Auburn Media Relations* By: Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - Ellis Johnson, Auburn's first-year defensive coordinator, says the intent of the new targeting rule is good. But like defensive coordinators across college football, he wonders if the cure will be worse than the disease.
Auburn coaches met with SEC officials on Monday to go over the new rule, and the reality of it was sobering.
If a defenseless player is hit above the shoulders, the team will draw a 15-yard penalty and the offending player will be ejected from the game. If replay shows the hit was not improper, the penalty will stand but the ejection will not.
Johnson said he fears the effort to protect players could itself result in injuries.
"The general intent of the rule, I'm in favor of," Johnson said Tuesday. "But my biggest fear is that if they keep bringing us down lower and lower, I think you are going to see leg injuries on offensive players and neck injuries on defensive players.
"The thing I hope it will stop is guys leaving their feet, launching if you will, and going obviously to the head."
The film clips officials showed Auburn coaches made it clear that intent will not be a factor. If the hit is deemed improper, the player is out for that game. If it happens in the second half, he will also be out the first half of the next game.
"The ballcarrier or the receiver or whoever is getting ready to be in the collision, they'll naturally drop their heads," Johnson said. "A lot of these things are not intentional. I think it's like a lot of rules. Sometimes the unintended consequences are brought along."
The rule, Johnson said, won't just impact defenses. The film clips also showed examples that would lead to players being ejected on offense or special teams.
"It could affect both sides of the ball," Johnson said. "There were some blocks from offensive players downfield and some blocks in the kicking game that were on those clips. It was pretty obvious the intent was not to hurt anybody or launch toward the head, and they were still called because the collision was head to head."
Some situations, Johnson said, can be dealt with by teaching in practice. Blind-side blocks, he said, will become more of a shield and less of an attack. But some potential problem plays, he said, are unavoidable.
"The ones where you are trying to tackle somebody and you don't leave your feet, we are going to have to live with the consequences, I guess," Johnson said. "Some of the guys are still running. You see them kind of turning. They don't even make contact with their head and they don't have any intent to hit the other guy's head, but they come into the chest area and it slides up on the head. I don't see how you take that out of football."
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