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September 19, 2012

Notebook: Helmet contact tightly policed

TUSCALOOSA | The college football season is only three weeks old, and already the Southeastern Conference has suspended two defensive backs for helmet-to-helmet contact. University of Alabama coach Nick Saban said an emphasis on player safety was made clear when officials visited SEC programs before the season to educate players about the difference between legal and illegal hits.

The increased enforcement of the rule has stemmed from concern over concussions and head injuries, Saban said.

"We were all shown when the officials came in and met with our team, things that ... hitting somebody in the head, or leading with the head, either way -- no matter what you hit them in the head with -- are going to be things that we just can't tolerate," Saban said. "I think that's in the interest of player safety."

So far this year, Ole Miss defensive back Trae Elston and South Carolina defensive back D.J. Swearinger have been suspended for illegal hits. Most recently, Swearinger was suspended for a hit in a game against Alabama-Birmingham that will keep him on the sideline for Saturday's Gamecocks SEC home game against Missouri. Elston was suspended earlier this year for a similar hit in a win over Texas-El Paso.

The National Football League also has placed a greater emphasis on preventing helmet-to-helmet contact. The speed of the game at the major college level, and even moreso the pro level, make it difficult for players to avoid at times.

"Football is football," said linebacker Adrian Hubbard. "You can't control helmet-to-helmet contact. It's going to happen. If it happens, you take your penalty and keep it moving."

Alabama hasn't had a player suspended, although linebacker Nico Johnson was flagged for roughing the passer in the Crimson Tide's win over Michigan.

"We had one in the first game that I thought was just a good old football hit. The guy didn't really hit the guy in the head, but he almost hit him in the head," Saban said. "So they called a foul. They didn't suspend him, it wasn't flagrant or anything, but players understand (to avoid helmet-to-helmet contact)."

Faking it
Quarterback AJ McCarron said his improvement on fakes -- both pump fakes and play-action fakes -- have made a difference for him early this season.

"I think that's a big thing that's helped me out this year, even on run fakes, I think they all look the same," McCarron said. "Coach actually pointed out in the Arkansas game, both of my deep pass to Christion on the deep over and, the next series later, to Amari on the sideline, you can really see the secondary and the linebackers suck up. That's what I like seeing."

With seven touchdown passes and no interceptions, McCarron ranks third in the entire NCAA in pass efficiency with a rating of 196.6.

Quotable
"Champ Bailey. I just always liked him, grew up watching him. But then at the same time, I've always got Deion Sanders, because my name is Deion." - Junior cornerback Deion Belue on his favorite NFL player.

Tidebits
Wide receiver Kevin Norwood was in uniform for practice Wednesday but did not participate in individual drills. ... UA center Barrett Jones has been named to the 2012 Allstate AFCA Good Works team for his community service efforts. ... Alabama's second home game of the season Saturday against Florida Atlantic will kick off at 4 p.m.

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0196.


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