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Robert Saleh thinks rugby-style tackling technique gives 49ers advantage with new helmet rule

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The new helmet rule has raised plenty of chatter. But how many penalties will we see once the games count?

Much of the talk from last week’s Hall of Fame Game surrounded the referees repeated flagging of the new helmet rule. The rule is vague and open to all sorts of interpretation. Initially it was about lowering the helmet to initiate contact with opponents. It was later announced that “incidental” helmet contact during “conventional” tackling or blocking would be OK, according to Pro Football Talk. A word like “conventional” leaves this wildly open to interpretation.

SB Nation writer and former NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz thinks it is too soon to get in a huff about the new rule. He thinks there’s a good chance we see it called a lot during the preseason, but then penalties will be dialed back once the regular season arrives. That’s kind of ridiculous, but also kind of makes sense.

But even if the rule is being called regularly, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is not concerned. In fact, he thinks the 49ers are in a position to be ahead of the curve.

“You know, we’ll see. Maybe it’s ignorance, stubbornness, I don’t know for me, but we feel like we’ve been teaching this style of tackling, I’ve been exposed to it for the last eight years. People in the rugby world have tackled without helmets for years and we’ve been teaching that style of tackling for, I’m going on, I believe, eight years now and our players are going on year two. So, we feel so good about all of the drills that we run, the techniques that we teach, the tape that we have to show them exactly what it looks like, that in a way we’ve been preparing for this moment. Now that it’s here, I don’t think it should change us. Now, the rest of the league needs to catch up, but we feel good about it. So, we’ll see once it actually starts getting flagged and how it shows up. But, like I said, maybe I’m just being naïve but I feel good about where we are.”

Saleh joined the Seattle Seahawks coaching staff in 2011, and that is where he likely learned much of what he knows about shoulder-leading rugby-style tackling. Under Pete Carroll, the team moved in that direction, as discussed by SB Nation’s Jeanna Thomas back in 2016.

The method has some questions with regard to tackling efficiency, but how it will be impacted by this new helmet rule is going to be something to watch. There some people predicting doom and gloom for the league under this new rule, and others who are taking more of a wait and see approach. I have a feeling we’ll have plenty to discuss about this following this coming Thursday’s game. But whether that carries over to the regular season is another question entirely.