New rules creates a quarterback 'strike zone' for defense

semerson@macon.comJuly 16, 2014 

Gator Bowl Football

Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason (14) and the Bulldogs open their season against Clemson.

STEPHEN B. MORTON — AP

HOOVER, Ala. - Last year it was targeting. This year it's the quarterback "strike zone."

One of the major emphasis for college football officials this year will be to protect quarterbacks from being hit below the knee. It's similar to the so-called Tom Brady rule in the NFL.

As explained by Steve Shaw, the SEC coordinator of officials, there now exists a "strike zone" that defenders can legally hit a quarterback during a play: It starts below the helmet and goes until the knees.

Otherwise, you're getting a penalty. The rule only applies when the quarterback is in what Shaw called a "passing posture." But that doesn't necessarily have to be in the pocket.

"The quarterback is most vulnerable when he's in that passing posture," Shaw said during an appearance at SEC media days on Wednesday. "This is a player safety thing."

A penalty will not be called if a player is blocked into the quarterback.

The targeting rule last year sought to protect not only quarterbacks but receivers or anybody from being hit in the helmet. It was controversial, but Shaw argued again Wednesday that it ultimately achieved its purpose: Altering player behavior, stopping defenders from launching at defenseless players.

Now comes the rules to prevent quarterbacks from being hit below the knees. Shaw said this seeks a similar change in player behavior.

"Basically what our officials are going to look at, when a player is under his own power, he is directing his own hit," Shaw said. "If he chooses to go low, that is going to be a foul."

A few other notes from Shaw's appearance:

- In a move to combat the headache for officials created by strange uniforms, a new rule has been established: If there is no color contrast between the numeral and the jersey (as in they're pretty much the same color) the team will be penalized one timeout at the start of each quarter.

It shouldn't apply to Georgia. A team such as Oregon, however, may need to think about it.

- Three SEC officials were promoted to the NFL after last season. Shaw also said a few others "aren't back" this year, without specifying names in either case.

- The wording on the targeting rule has changed slightly: It now states that no player shall target and "make forcible" contact with a player, instead of "initiate" contact with a player.

"Many times people would say 'initiate' means that first point of contact. If a guy nipped his shoulder, drilled him above the shoulders, you would say: Did he initiate it to the shoulder? Now we're looking for that forcible contact," Shaw said. "That's going to help us in the replay booth."

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