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Vikings on new helmet rule: 'There's going to be a lot of challenges with it'

EGAN — Like most NFL teams, the Vikings seek clarification about a new rule that will penalize tacklers for lowering their head and leading with their helmets.

"There's going to be a lot of challenges with it," coach Mike Zimmer said last week. "It's going to take a little bit of preseason to clean up a little bit. It's going to be tough at first."

In accordance with the new rule, if a player lowers his head and makes contact with any part of an opponent's body, it will result in a 15-yard penalty. It can include an ejection if 1) a player lowers his helmet to establish a linear body posture prior to initiating and making contact with the helmet; 2) there's an unobstructed path to his opponent; 3) the contact is clearly avoidable and the player delivering the blow had other options.

"There were only two plays (last season) that were ejectable plays," NFL referee Pete Morelli said. "Fouls? There may be an increase until players kind of understand this rule."

Morelli and the rest of his NFL officiating crew were in Eagan on Thursday to talk to the Vikings about new rules for the 2018 season.

"It's trying to change the culture," Morelli said of the new tackling rule. "It's just a safety thing."

As for how the new rule will be policed, longtime cornerback Terence Newman doesn't anticipate much of an issue. He understands it's designed to keep players safe, and said it proves the league is "moving in the right direction" as it attempts to limit concussions.

"There are always rules being changed, so we have to adapt," Newman said. "It shouldn't be that big of a deal. If we look at how to tackle properly, we're not supposed to dip our head in the first place. It's just going to help everyone being more safe."

While the Vikings will certainly prepare for the new rule in practice, cornerback Mackensie Alexander said it probably won't change much as far as how the team approaches an actual game.

"You've just got to play fast and see what happens," Alexander said. "You can't really go out there and say, 'I'm not going to do this.' It's all reaction. You don't know what's going to happen."

"It'll be a learning process," Morelli said. "If we think it's a foul, or are pretty sure it is, we'll be throwing our flags. They can rein us in, or point out plays after that."