The NFL’s new rule on tackling quarterbacks boils down to this: His posture dictates how far the league is willing to go to protect him.
“He is still treated as a runner until he is clearly out of the play,” vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said in a video released to the media.
The word “clearly” is just one of the issues Jim Harbaugh has with the language of the new law of the land.
“To me,” said Harbaugh, who called the rule ‘flawed’ and ‘biased,’ “he is a quarterback until he leaves the pocket as a running threat.”
It remains to be seen how leaving Kaepernick vulnerable to a greater amount of hits would affect the play-calling of Harbaugh and his staff.
“I believe that when a quarterback is handing the ball off or faking a ball – in the read-option case, he’s reading on an option play – that he’s as defenseless as a quarterback who is in the act of throwing,” the coach said. “I’m not advocating that they don’t hit the quarterback if he has the ball, but if he’s in the pocket, I believe there should be a strike zone.”
That’s where the word “clearly” comes into play. Harbaugh wondered aloud how a defensive player is supposed to ascertain on the fly at which point a quarterback becomes a running back, or vice versa.
“I feel like you give a license now to players to hit quarterbacks at the knee and in the head,” Harbaugh said. “It just seems to be a flip-flop of what the league is trying to accomplish: player safety.”
Harbaugh said the league’s competition committee has no “appetite” to include a sort of “strike zone,” an area where the quarterback can or cannot be struck.
Going into the uncertainty of Sunday’s opener, the coach was asked whether the new rule will affect the way his team will play.
“We’re going to play football,” he said.