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2022 Points of Emphasis — Defenseless Players


Bobref
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One of the 2022 Points of Emphasis is contact against a “defenseless player.” Because of differences in the rules at various levels the NFHS rules relating to defenseless players (DP) are often poorly understood by fans, coaches, players, and yes, even some officials.

First, it’s important to know what qualifies a player as “defenseless.” A DP is one who, because of his physical position and focus of concentration is especially vulnerable to injury.  The rulebook gives 8 examples of DPs, and that list is not exhaustive.

  1. A passer.
  2. A receiver attempting to catch a pass who has not had time to clearly become a runner.
  3. The intended receiver of a pass in the action during and immediately following an interception or potential interception.
  4. A runner already in the grasp of a tackler whose forward progress has been stopped.
  5. A kickoff or punt returner attempting to catch or recover a kick, or one who has completed a catch or recovery and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a runner.
  6. A player on the ground including a runner who has obviously given himself up and is sliding feet first.
  7. A player obviously out of the play or not in the immediate vicinity of the runner; and
  8. A player who receives a blindside block with forceful contact not initiated with open hands.

A player contacting a DP is responsible for insuring that the contact is legal and not excessive. Whether contact is excessive is, of course, a judgment call. Whenever there is doubt as to whether the contact was excessive, it should be considered excessive and the flag should be thrown. Here is the guidance officials use to help determine whether contact against a DP is to be considered a foul:

  • Any forcible contact against a runner in the grasp whose forward progress is stopped, or who is on the ground, or a player who receives a blindside block other than with open hands first, or who is obviously out of the play and not in the vicinity of the runner is deemed excessive.
  • Forcible contact against the passer or a receiver attempting to catch a pass or field a kick is legal if it is unavoidable, not late, and otherwise in compliance with the rules, e.g., not targeting, spearing, or excessive under the circumstances.
  • Targeting a DP, i.e., taking aim and initiating contact above the shoulders using the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulder is not only a foul, but may be deemed flagrant, resulting in an ejection.

Officials have been instructed to err on the side of ruling contact against a DP a foul. In order to avoid fouling a DP, players should avoid contact wherever possible, and insure that any unavoidable contact is not unnecessarily rough.

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