NASHVILLE, Tenn. >> The NFL tapped Titans coach Mike Vrabel to narrate a video detailing the new rule on lowering the head to initiate contact, hoping the man who played 14 years as a linebacker in the league could more easily explain how players should adapt.
Now Vrabel’s own Titans (0-2) find themselves tied with defending champion Philadelphia for the most lowering-the-head penalties through two preseason games with five apiece. Tennessee was flagged three times for the new rule in an opening loss in Green Bay, and the Titans added two more in Saturday night’s 30-14 loss to Tampa Bay.
Getting it right matters because any player initiating contact with his helmet could be ejected after an in-game video review decided in New York.
So far this preseason, blame either the player making contact, the speed of the game or everyone still getting used to the new rule.
“Pretty much all those are going to fall into one of those categories,” Vrabel said Sunday.
Titans safety Kenny Vaccaro drew one penalty for running across the field to tackle Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans at the end of a 38-yard reception on the sideline. Wide receiver Nick Williams was flagged late in the third quarter while on punt coverage, costing the Titans 15 yards.
Vrabel said Vaccaro has to do a better job avoiding contact with the crown of his helmet while trying to break up the pass. The coach wasn’t sure if Williams made contact, but noted the receiver’s head was in the linear position the NFL is trying to eliminate from the game. The Titans will turn those plays into the league for an explanation.
The coach said he already showed his team an eight-minute video from the NFL of penalties in the first week of the preseason.
“We’ll keep doing that and we’ll keep coaching it and we’ll keep stressing it, and hopefully it doesn’t, one, lead to injuries, or two, cost us yards,” Vrabel said.
Even though the rule is new, six NFL teams that have played two preseason games have not been flagged even once for lowering the head to initiate contact. Indianapolis, who plays Baltimore on Monday night, was not flagged in its preseason opener. Behind the Titans and Eagles, five teams have been penalized under the rule three times apiece: Arizona, Atlanta, Carolina, the Rams and San Francisco.
Chicago has three such penalties through three exhibitions.
The Titans have been penalized 25 times for 258 yards through two games.
Asked if officials might be a bit overzealous enforcing the rule during the preseason before hopefully scaling back in the regular season, Vrabel said he wasn’t really sure.
“I try to do my job. They ask me to provide a video, a voiceover video, on what I thought was the right way to play outside linebacker or inside linebacker taking these blocks on, tackling. I thought I tried to go through and provide examples of what was good and what was probably needed to be fixed and changed in some of the style of play,” Vrabel said.
“But they don’t tell me, ‘Hey, coach, this is going to get scaled back in the regular season.’ I think these guys are doing what their boss, and the league, is just telling them to do. So if they see that position and they see contact, they’re calling it.”
That leaves Vrabel and his assistants coaching the Titans better to adjust how they play.