Eagles Wake-Up Call: Westbrook Backs New Rule

Brian Westbrook knows that 25-year-olds usually aren’t thinking about what their lives are going to be like once their football-playing days are over.

And so, he has no problem with the league changing the rules to make the game safer.

Westbrook, 33, sustained at least two concussions during his playing days and said recently that he’s already suffering from short-term memory loss.

While many running backs – Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk and others – have spoken out against the new rule that will penalize offensive players from using the crown of their helmets against defenders, Westbrook supports it.

“If the NFL and Roger Goodell and the owners are trying to bring some more safety to the game, make this a better game and a safer game, not for 25-year-olds, but for those 25-year-olds that are now 45, then I think it’s a good thing,” he said during a recent interview with Mike Missanelli on 97.5 The Fanatic.

One important distinction with the new rule is that it only applies when the ball-carrier is outside the tackle box. In other words, if a running back (or quarterback) ducks his head to pick up a 4th-and-1 or to get in the end zone from the 2-yard-line, the rule doesn’t apply.

Here’s the official wording:

Under the new rule, a runner or a tackler would draw a 15-yard penalty if he initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players clearly are outside the tackle box (an area extending from tackle to tackle and from three yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the offensive team’s end line). Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or a tackler against an opponent would not be deemed a foul.

The last sentence there means this will be an extremely subjective call left to the interpretation of the officials. That’s where the most valid criticism comes in.

“How they enforce it will be very interesting to see,” Westbrook said. “I think if there’s any rule that you’re putting in place for the safety of the players, it’s a good thing. I think this rule is just going to be very hard to put in place and referee it, because everybody in the NFL does it – whether it’s the running back, wide receiver, the quarterback running the football, whoever has the football in their hands, the tight end, they always do that.”

As for the notion that new rules are going too far and turning the NFL into a flag football league, Westbrook said that’s off-base.

“I hear a lot of players, especially some of the older players say the game is changing, the game is different,” he said. “Well, yeah, the game is changing, the players are changing, and so you have to keep the rules up with the current game.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones says he has a private workout scheduled with the Eagles. Analyst Brian Baldinger thinks Jones would be a no-brainer for the Birds at No. 4.

The Eagles reportedly have interest in free-agent defensive tackle Vaughn Martin.

What does Chip Kelly think of Moneyball in the NFL? T-Mac has the story.

QBs coach Chris Weinke has been working with Geno Smith to tweak his game. He thinks Smith and Kelly would be a perfect fit.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Tommy Lawlor of IgglesBlitz.com chimes in on the possibility of the Eagles targeting Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson with the fourth pick:

Johnson at 4 may seem early.  I’m trying to think like Chip Kelly and the Eagles might be thinking. Johnson does make a lot of sense.  He is the most athletic of the stud OTs.  Chip loves athletes.  Johnson played RT in 2011 and LT in 2012.  He could step in at RT this spring and play right away.  This wouldn’t be a crazy projection where you hope he could handle playing on that side.  If anything happens to Jason Peters, you could slide him to the left side.

ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano offers his thoughts on the Eagles possibly taking Smith:

I think the Philadelphia Eagles are wisely considering every option available to them, both at the quarterback position and with the No. 4 pick in the draft. For that reason, I have no doubt that their look at West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is a serious one. Will they take him? They probably don’t even know that yet. But they are in need of a franchise quarterback, they hope they won’t be picking this high again for a long time, and so it behooves them to consider whether Smith can be that franchise quarterback. What I have been told on Smith by scouts that have evaluated him is that he’s got the tools to be great but that his college tape shows a lack of consistency from game to game — i.e., he wasn’t great every week, the way an Andrew Luck was at Stanford or a Robert Griffin III was at Baylor. That leads to questions, and it’s for the evaluating teams to decide whether they want to spend a top draft pick on the chance that they can draw that consistency out of the guy at the highest level. In the end, I don’t think the Eagles take Smith at No. 4. But that doesn’t mean they’re not seriously considering it.

COMING UP

The draft is officially one month away. Lots to get to between now and then.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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