MORGANTOWN. W.Va. — Tony Gibson predicts this season’s emphasis on targeting penalties will sideline some top-notch defensive players, maybe even some All-Americans.
Even with players forewarned that targeting fouls will carry an automatic ejection, Gibson said the narrow line between a legal and illegal hit could wind up penalizing aggressive defenders attempting to play as instructed.
“Defensive coaches around the country are teaching fly to the ball and be physical when you tackle somebody,” said West Virginia’s safeties coach.
“It’s going to happen to somebody at some point—a program will lose a great player just for the fact they’re a big hitter.”
WVU’s video staffers are assembling video clips to illustrate targeting, and the coaches plan on bringing in officials for deeper explanations of high-risk hits. Though targeting can occur anywhere on the field, including crack-back blocks by offensive players and special-teamers, most of the examples shown last month at a Big 12 officiating summit involved defensive backs colliding with receivers.
Gibson said he’s reminding his top safeties—Darwin Cook, KJ Dillon, and last season’s top tackler Karl Joseph—to “stay off the head and try to put your face on the ball.”
His message is be smart, without being timid.
“One thing I told my players: I don’t want them playing cautious,” he said. “Because then you play scared and you miss opportunities and miss tackles.”
Here is one of Joseph’s best crunches of 2012. Based on criteria meted out by the Big 12 supervisor of officials, it would NOT warrant a targeting flag:
All that chatter about rotating defensive players to keep them fresh against uptempo offenses? Gibson said it doesn’t apply to his guys. As long as they’re healthy and the game’s in the balance, Joseph and Cook expect too be on the field for all snaps. They’re too integral to communication to take scheduled breathers.
“When I (coached) the whole secondary, you’d kind of treat those cornerbacks like shooters in basketball—if they’re hot, they’re on the field,” he said. “And if they start to struggle, you get them out for a series or two.
“But safeties are a little different because they’re so involved with the whole scheme of things—making calls, making checks—it’s hard to rotate guys in and out.”
Dillon figures to play in nickel and dime packages that utilize a three-safety look.