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Did the helmet rule actually work in 2018? And how will it change in 2019?

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Nearly every week between August and February, the NFL picks a handful of officiating calls to highlight in an online media video. The first installment, distributed last Friday, led off not with the much-talked-about pass interference reviews, but rather with two examples of the helmet rule in action during the Aug. 1 Hall of Fame game.

The first instance went uncalled by officials on the field. The second, according to senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron, was flagged incorrectly.

With public attention focused on the recent addition of pass interference to replay review, the NFL is still trying to figure out how to administer it after last year’s officiating debacle. The helmet rule — prohibiting players from lowering their helmets to initiate contact with an opponent — is one of two points of emphasis for 2019, meaning officials have been asked to pay special attention to it. There is an expectation that it will be enforced more tightly on the field, but the difficulty involved with fulfilling that task makes the helmet rule one of the most enigmatic NFL edicts in recent memory.

“There’s an adjustment period involved, and everyone knows it,” said competition committee chairman Rich McKay. “These players didn’t play with this rule for a long time, meaning their entire career. There’s an adjustment period for on-field officials. We’re confident that … they are going to get better at it as they look for it more. But at the same time, we’re confident that we’re going to see less of these fouls because players are going to be more comfortable with it.”

The NFL wrote off traditional enforcement of the rule in its 2018 debut, an unprecedented decision that led to only 19 flags in 256 games. The league did, however, issue 28 fines and 139 warning letters to players who had in most cases committed fouls that went uncalled. That discrepancy, while preferable to a flood of penalties, called into question the integrity of the game and prompted fair questions about whether the rule was simply unenforceable lip service to the league’s health and safety apparatus.

The 2019 season should answer those concerns, one way or the other. Officials were given an offseason study guide to help them identify violations “to better recognize when players initiate helmet contact,” referee Adrian Hill said. Players and coaches, meanwhile, have heard the mantra now for 15 months.

“It’s a violent game,” said Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy, “but we as coaches have to be able to teach tackling the right way, and that’s keeping your head and helmet up.”

But the annual flood of young players into the league demands constant vigilance and reiteration; the helmet rule is different from anything at any other level of football. Players have always been coached to hit with their heads up but were never penalized if they didn’t and thus had little on-field incentive to avoid lowering the helmet.

When the rule was announced, many players predicted there would be instances when lowering the helmet was unavoidable. The NFL initiated a universal rules alignment initiative last season, designed to introduce similar rules from Pop Warner through high school and college, but it will be years before those efforts manifest in players entering the NFL.

In the meantime, we could continue to see plays such as those highlighted in last week’s NFL video. In the first, Denver Broncos safety Will Parks lowered his helmet and hit Atlanta Falcons running back Brian Hill in the hip with his helmet. The contact, which took place in the middle of the line and was clearly visible only from an end zone view, went unpenalized.

The second instance was more obvious but still went incorrectly adjudicated. Referee Walt Anderson’s crew flagged Hill for lowering his helmet to hit Broncos safety Dymonte Thomas after a run down the right sideline. Riveron said the call on Hill was correct, but demonstrated that Thomas also had lowered his head to initiate contact and should have been penalized as well.

There was a total of five flags thrown for violations of the helmet rule in the first 17 games of the preseason — a much slower pace than the chaotic 2018 preseason, but more than the average of 1.1 per week during the regular season. The continued focus, however, is not simply a means to align enforcement with behavior. The NFL also believes that the mere introduction of the rule changed behavior in 2018.

According to league data, concussions involving a player who lowered his head to initiate contact decreased by 20% in 2018 compared to 2017. A player lowering his head was still involved in about 50% of all concussions from helmet-to-helmet contact, and overall, 40% of all concussions still involved some kind of helmet-to-helmet contact in 2018.

“That is one data point and it is one year,” said Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of health and safety initiatives. “That is not a lot of information. [But] helmet-to-helmet contact causing concussions, that number is 20% lower than it was a year ago. So that is positive thing. There’s obviously a lot more to do in that space. That is something that was very interesting to the competition committee as they continue to push and make an emphasis on this point. So that is a teaching point, a player-adoption point, a culture-change point, and a good one.”

The NFL’s efforts in this space have tested its ability to leverage a legitimate safety initiative against behavior that is genuinely difficult to change with a rule that is objectively hard to officiate. The league essentially punted on the first season and is taking a long-term approach. But how many years will it take to get there? Progress in 2019, defined by more appropriate officiating, is essential to getting there.



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Sources — Colts won’t recoup money from Luck

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Despite the fact that they could have recouped $24.8 million from their former quarterback, the Indianapolis Colts have reached a financial settlement with Andrew Luck and will not take back any of the money they are owed, league sources tell ESPN.

The Colts essentially are telling Luck to keep it all, even though it is within their rights to reclaim the money.

The settlement was reached late last week, according to a source familiar with the talks.

Luck could have owed the Colts $12.8 million as a pro-rated portion of the $32 million signing bonus the Colts gave him when he signed his five-year extension in 2016, and another $12 million in roster bonuses he was paid in March. But Indianapolis waived its right to recoup the money and is allowing Luck to keep it all, after the poundings he’s taken and all he’s given to the franchise. It is, in an official way, his parting gift.

Shortly after the news of Luck’s retirement broke Saturday night, Colts owner Jim Irsay estimated Luck might be losing out on a half-billion dollars in potential NFL wages by retiring now.

“It’s a tough thing, look it, he’s leaving $450 million on the table potentially,” Irsay said. “I mean, a half a billion dollars, and he’s saying, ‘You know what, I want to have my integrity. I have to be able to look (wide receiver) T.Y. (Hilton) in the eye, look my teammates, look coach, look (GM) Chris (Ballard) and say, I’m all in,’ and he just didn’t feel he could do that.”

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Los Angeles Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth trying to keep his career alive at nearly 8,000 feet

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WOLCOTT, Colo. — Daddy is sweating and it’s hot, but Andrew Whitworth‘s boys don’t notice. It’s time for a ride, in what’s become an annual offseason tradition, and it’s time for dad to provide the push.

Whitworth removes a couple of bags of golf clubs from the end of the golf cart in an effort to lighten the load, as sweat continuously drops from his graying goatee. The Los Angeles Rams’ 37-year-old left tackle pauses, trying to gather his breath, then leans over and finds his grip.

His 7-year-old son, Michael, yells from the passenger’s seat, “We’re ready!” and the 6-foot-7, 330-pound Whitworth begins to push. The cart inches forward, and 8-year-old son Drew hollers from the driver’s side, “What a ride!”

It’s the last Monday in June. Four days into the Whitworth family’s retreat to their offseason home high in the mountains of Colorado. Whitworth’s wife, Melissa, and two daughters remain in their hometown in Louisiana for a few extra days, as Whitworth takes on the challenge of starting his offseason workout regimen with Michael and Drew in tow. His boys are old enough to shadow dad as he plows through his grueling workout routine, but young enough to still get a kick out of the wild physical feats that he can pull off.

As Whitworth pushes the 900-pound golf cart, carrying his two 50-plus-pound kids across the driveway, his calf muscles flex and veins begin to pop. After exhausting his strength, Whitworth retreats to the shade inside his three-car garage, which has been partially converted into a home gym.

“Want to go again?” Drew hollers, before he puts the cart in reverse.

With Whitworth, who went through a 30-minute strength circuit prior to the push, trying to catch his breath in the thin mountain air, this portion of the day’s workout is over. Drew and Michael won’t get another free ride.

It’s Day 1 of Whitworth’s offseason program, one he must ease into at an altitude well more than a mile high — where your heart rate races even at a standstill, a satisfying breath is challenging to find, and the air is so dry that lip balm must remain a fixture in your pocket.

“I feel pretty good,” Whitworth says through a heavy breath, nearly 10 minutes after the great golf cart push. “Most of the time after these workouts, you feel pretty alive just because of the altitude.”

Training at altitude forces muscles to work harder due to the lack of oxygen in the air. It can also produce more red blood cells. It’s yet another way Whitworth is trying to extend his NFL career.

The start of Whitworth’s 14th NFL training camp remains five weeks away. The four-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro has gone to great lengths to find new ways to motivate his mind and move his body. Over the span of his career, his workouts have ranged from prototypical Olympic weightlifting to carrying stones up the mountainside. Some of his workouts seem outside the box, if not unprecedented for an NFL player. But for all the crazy, as he describes it, it continues to pay off.

“I almost, in some ways, feel better now than I ever did,” Whitworth says. “I think I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been in.”

But at age 37, Whitworth is the oldest lineman in the NFL, and how much longer he can hold the title remains the biggest question.

“I still feel really good,” he says, though he acknowledges there are some bumps and bruises from football — swollen ankles and knees, battered hip labrums — that will never quite feel the same. “If I feel like I can’t go out and perform the way that I think I should be, then I just won’t be able to do it.”

So onward Whitworth goes into another Colorado summer, training to keep his mind sharp, his body energized and his career alive at 7,880 feet.


Inside the weight room at West Monroe High School in West Monroe, Louisiana, a wall features a distinguished list of the top weight lifters to pass through the Rebels’ powerhouse program.

The top spot in any category — bench, squat and power clean — is a proud accomplishment. But, according to Casey Sanders, West Monroe’s strength coach for the last 30 years, there’s one category that means the most.

“In the history of West Monroe,” Sanders says, “Normally our best power cleaners are our best football players. [Players] kind of know that.”

Whitworth set the standard when he cleaned 390 pounds before his senior season. For good measure, he set the record in the bench press, too, when he pressed 350 pounds. But it was the power clean mark that stood for 13 years until future Alabama and Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Cam Robinson beat it by 10 pounds.

Whitworth, however, still left a lasting legacy. “His work ethic was great,” Sanders says. “He just loved football and he loved training … that’s one of the biggest keys that he had going for him.”

Whitorth says Sanders became the biggest factor in his success. “He was the baseline and the foundation,” he says, and Whitworth took that knowledge with him to LSU, then on to Cincinnati, after the Bengals selected him in the second round of the 2006 draft.

Through 11 seasons with the Bengals, Whitworth developed an annual routine that former Bengals strength coach Chip Morton fondly looks back on. Whitworth would walk into Morton’s office, fold into a chair and rest his hands on his knees as a mischievous grin grew across his face.

“I knew what was coming,” Morton says through laughter, as he launches into a detailed explanation of Whitworth’s postseason routine.

“He would come in and sit down and say, ‘Okay, it’s that time of the year, what are we going to do?’ ” Morton says. “We would just discuss things and I would give him leads and ideas and he would just dive in and pursue it.”

After his five-year career at LSU, Whitworth arrived in Cincinnati well-versed in weightlifting, and really anything that required brute strength.

“I think he’d tell ya,” Morton says, “when he came to us, he was a certified meathead.”

But together with Morton, Whitworth diversified his strength.

One offseason, he was interested in becoming more fluid in his movements, so he took up yoga. At another point, he wanted to find a low-impact cardio solution, so Morton suggested Whitworth purchase a 95-pound chain to haul across the field. Days later, Whitworth showed up with his new purchase on display.

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Rams LT Andrew Whitworth takes his training to the next level at his offseason home in Colorado. Go inside Whitworth’s workouts, and his mindset, as he prepares for his 14th season in the NFL. Video by Lindsey Thiry

“It’s one thing to say it, or to understand the concept of taking care of your body or getting into training,” Morton says. “It’s another thing to commit to it, and invest your own personal capital into it and your own personal time and all that. That’s what set Andrew apart.”

Whitworth trained in Muay Thai fighting, MMA and CrossFit. He also took private training in Jiu Jitsu. “I had to call in someone big enough to fight him,” says Jon Stutzman, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt, who trains at a gym in Ohio, but stood no match for the amateur Whitworth. “He was gargantuan.”

As Whitworth grew older, and inspired by Morton, he became a big fan of weighted carries — simply walking with heavy weights. The exercises increased his stamina, and became an alternative to cardiovascular fitness that wouldn’t require as much running and pounding on his body.

“I think it was as much to save his body and find different ways to train his body to prolong things and not just be a slave to barbell training only,” Morton says.


“Drew, keep your arms straight — your left arm, keep it straight the whole time,” Whitworth says, as he lines up next to his boys at the driving range. Drew takes his dad’s advice, then hits a clean shot, straight ahead. “Yessir, real clean ball, dude.”

Whitworth pulls his own customized clubs — everything two inches longer — out of the bag. After he places a few chip shots on the green, he pulls out his driver.

“I can hit it a long way,” he says, as his stoic face hints at a grin. “But it’s not controlled.”

A loud whoosh sends a drive 315 yards from the tee.

“Wow!” Michael says. “It’s going to be really hard to beat that.”

For Whitworth, even while downing sliders with his kids at the snack shack, golf counts as workout. On any given day in Colorado, he will play 18 to 36 holes after his morning workout.

“It gives me an opportunity to reset mentally and physically to get out and sweat and just move the body and keep things working the way they should,” Whitworth says. “It just a great balance to being an athlete to play golf and to have an opportunity to have something else to work at that’s totally just not anything like football.”

It also provides time to spend with his family. Michael and Drew have taken to it, and they’re days away from competing in a father-son tournament. Whitworth’s wife, Melissa, his daughters and their long-time family nanny, Krista Howard, will play in a family scramble.

But on this day, it’s just the boys. And Whitworth, appearing slightly fatigued, plays coach, chauffeur and referee as things get chippy from hole to hole.

“Great job, Mike, keeping that arm out in front of you,” Whitworth hollers from the cart path to the random spot where he told the boys to tee off. “There you go! Good job, buddy!”

After playing nine holes, more or less, in no particular order but rather to avoid any other patrons, Whitworth navigates a return to the house, parks the cart and makes his way to sit on the outdoor couch on the back deck.

He stares out at an expansive view of the Rocky Mountain range. Steamboat Springs is far in the distance. He has something of a thousand-mile stare, as he ponders his football mortality. He’s put his mind and body through pain, whether it be in an offseason workout or playing last season through two sprained ankles. He admits he’s a glutton for punishment when it comes to training so that he can enjoy other life moments without feeling an ounce of guilt.

Whitworth, who is in the final season of a three-year, $36 million contract, talks through all the reasons why he’ll continue to play — and why he never actually considered retiring last season despite the overwhelming assumption — both inside and outside of his circle — that he would.

There’s the pursuit of a return trip to the Super Bowl and the chance to build an organization that not long ago was mired in mediocrity into a three-time division winner. There’s also the years of hard work that have kept his body moving, an investment he’s not ready to forfeit.

“It’s going to come down to being able to still play at a level that … if I feel like I can’t go out and perform the way that I think I should be, then I just won’t be able to do it,” Whitworth says. “I’m not going to go out there and struggle and be okay with it.

“So if I don’t feel like I can go out there and play, then that’s when it’s going to be done for me.”

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Source — Pack to cut 2017 2nd-round pick Jones

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The Green Bay Packers will release safety Josh Jones on Sunday, and the former second-round pick is likely to get claimed on waivers, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Jones, the 61st overall pick in the 2017 draft, has been in and out of the lineup during his two years in Green Bay, starting 12 games over two years. He skipped the Packers’ voluntary offseason workouts this year, unhappy with his role on the team.

The Packers opened last season with former undrafted rookie Kentrell Brice and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at safety. Even after Clinton-Dix was traded midway through last season, Jones was bypassed for a starting job when the Packers moved Tramon Williams from cornerback to safety. It wasn’t until after Brice sustained an ankle injury in Week 10 that Jones finally got his first start of the season in Week 11.

Since then, the Packers signed former Chicago Bears safety Adrian Amos to a four-year, $36 million contract in free agency and drafted safety Darnell Savage Jr. at No. 21 overall.

Jones was one of just three Packers rookies to appear in every game during the 2017 season, starting in seven of them. He posted 71 tackles with two sacks plus an interception and seven pass breakups. In his first career start (Week 3 of 2017 against the Bengals), Jones posted a career-high 11 tackles (10 solo) and became the first rookie defensive back in team history to record two sacks in a game.

ESPN’s Rob Demovsky contributed to this report.

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