SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It's a conceivable nightmare for a college football team: Late in a close, critical game, a star defensive player goes in for a tackle. Either by design or by accident, it's high and helmet-to-helmet blow, and he's whistled for targeting.
In years past, it would've resulted in a 15-yard penalty. But beginning in 2013, any player called for targeting is immediately ejected from the game, and if the foul came in the second half that player is forced out of the first half of his team's next game.
It's a rule that's drawn strong opinions from both sides of the aisle -- some, including Stanford coach David Shaw, view it as a step in the right direction for making football a safer game. Others, like all-world South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, aren't fans of it.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, though, played things down the middle when asked about the possibility one of his players could be ejected for targeting this fall.
"I think what has concerned many is the interpretation of targeting more than anything else. We're not going to change anything in the way we coach," Kelly explained. "We're going to continue to coach safe tackling techniques, playing penalty‑free, making sure we're a disciplined football team."
Review can be used by officials to determine if an ejection is warranted, but with little leeway in interpreting a play, a hit that's nothing more than an accident could get a player tossed.
"When you put it into the hands of somebody else to make that decision, that's where it becomes a bit of an issue," Kelly continued. "We're going to have to work through it. We're hopeful that with the inclusion of instant replay that that can solve a lot of problems. Last year in talking to a number of people, there were less than 20 incidents last year that were targeting, that 'targeting' was the call.
"From our standpoint, we'll continue to coach the same way, talk about safe tackling techniques, make sure our kids understand they're not going to lead with the helmet, let it go from there."
The good news for Notre Dame is opposed to last year, Bob Diaco's defense looks like it could absorb the blow of losing a defensive back (or linebacker, too) in case of a targeting ejection. Last year, it would've been a worst-case scenario for Notre Dame to lose, say, Bennett Jackson or Matthias Farley. This fall, there's far more depth at cornerback and safety, while linebacking depth remains good.
"We would have to treat it like an injury and have the next man ready," Kelly said. "I think having depth certainly helps you in those situations, as it would if there was an injury. I don't believe those are conversations that are taking place in coach Diaco's staff room. He's talking about safe tackling techniques, being smart."