BOISE — Boise State sophomore safety Darian Thompsons impressive debut season might look much different if the NCAAs crackdown on hits to the head and neck would have arrived a year earlier.
Thompson likely would have been ejected at least twice last season under the new rule, which adds an automatic disqualification to the existing 15-yard penalty for targeting.
Officials have been told to error on the side of calling the foul. The ejection can be overturned on replay review, but the yardage penalty cant.
Thompson was featured on a video presentation to the media at Mountain West media days for a hit against BYU, and in the NCAA player safety video distributed to teams for a hit against Washington.
Thompson, who started the final six games last year and is one of four returning starters on the Broncos defense, says hell adjust his style to fit the rule.
I understand exactly what theyre saying they make it very clear, he said. Its not that hard to comprehend, so Ill be ready. Youve just got to be more careful. You cant take the big hit that you always dreamed about when you were little. Youve got to really think about what youre doing and take the time to perfect it in practice, so when it comes game time you dont have to think about not targeting it just happens automatically.
Targeting involves hitting a defenseless player a receiver making a catch, for instance above the shoulders or leading with the crown of the helmet.
In the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, Thompson hit Washington wide receiver Jaydon Mickens in the face with his helmet in the end zone just before halftime. A penalty was called.
The new rule mandates an ejection. If the play occurs in the second half, the player must sit the first half of the next game, too.
Last year, youre thinking, Man, I shouldnt have gotten that penalty, Thompson said. But its OK, you can go back and fix it the next play. You cant this year. Thats a really big part of it.
The NCAA video should hit home with all of the Broncos, not just Thompson.
Of 14 plays used to illustrate the rules, three involve the Broncos a good, bad and ugly.
The good: Former safety George Iloka moved his head to the side of the receiver and led with his shoulder on a hard hit good, tough football but perfectly legal, the narrator says.
The bad: Thompsons hit against Washington.
And the ugly: The hit that ended the career of former Boise State tailback Matt Kaiserman, who took a helmet to the face on a blindside block from a Utah player in the 2010 MAACO Bowl.
Players hit on blindside blocks have been added to the list of defenseless players for 2013.
People are going to have to really look at that, whether its on kickoff return or punt return, Boise State special teams coach Scott Huff said. Were definitely going to have to be really smart there. Weve got to do a good job educating them and weve already started with that.
The Broncos have a history of delivering devastating blocks on kick returns. They even started an award the Hammer to honor the biggest hit on special teams.
The wording was changed in the last couple years to give the Hammer to the guy who makes the best special teams play.
Still, the emphasis as the award implies is on physicality. Hard-hitting junior linebacker Blake Renaud won the Hammer four times last year and has collected it six times in his career.
Im very aware (of the rule), he said. Weve had meetings. Theyve told me I cant do that, so Ill try not to. Were still going to be physical. Coaches are telling us were not losing aggression. Were just being smarter about where we hit people.
And the coaches are trying to get smarter about how they teach tackling.
Defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, the defensive staff and coach Chris Petersen met with members of the Snake River Rugby Club this summer to discuss techniques. The highly successful club tackles in a sport without helmets.
Weve got to lower the strike zone, Kwiatkowski said. Were going to emphasize sliding the head across and striking with the shoulder. Also, wrapping up.
The pressure will be felt mostly by defensive backs like Thompson, the guys who crash into receivers at high speed in full view of the officials. Boise State defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake has tried to spin the rule as positive for his players. The rule will play a part in his drills every day, he said.
Its really the rule of football right now, and weve embraced this rule, he said. Its about player safety. We dont want these guys walking away in wheelchairs when theyre done playing college football or to have so many head injuries that they cant function later on in life.
He also insists that this isnt the end of the highlight-reel hit. The NCAA video shows a nasty goal-line hit by a BYU defender that remains within the rules.
We can still play physical football by hitting lower than the shoulders, not going to the head, and still make big-time hits and big-time splash plays, Lake said. Thats what were telling them every day.
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat