HOUSTON – In two preseason games, the 49ers were penalized three times under the new NFL rule, which prohibits any player from lowering his head to contact the helmet.
Around the league, it seems different interpretations of the rule, which are enforced by different reigning teams during two weeks of the show season. The 49er Kyle Shanahan is among those who are not sure what constitutes a punishment.
"We're still trying to figure it out," Shanahan said after the 49ers' Saturday night playoff against the Houston Texans. "We'll see how it works."
In the opening game of the show, 49ers linebacker Elijah Lee was penalized for an attack on Dallas, who ran back from Bo Scarbrough. Lee seemed to use his shoulder and helmet to simultaneously make contact with Scarbrough's back as he turned away from the contact.
Lee told NBC Sports Bay Area that he was not only penalized for the game, but the NFL briefed a representative of him that referee Ron Torbert's team falsely flung a flag.
While the three penalties referred to the 49ers surprised the three players marked for infringement, Lee said he understands the purpose behind the rule. He said he was determined to improve his technique to get his head out of the way as much as possible.
"It should not have been a punishment, so I feel much better to know that," Lee said of the game he was penalized for. "But at the same time I saw the play and I have to hold my head up, I have to continue to play and practice safer and play safer."
On Saturday, the 49ers from referee Walt Anderson's team became two more questionable interpretations of the rule called.
Raheem Mostert, the left-sided gunner on a punt, lowered his body as he approached Houston returner Tyler Ervin. Mostert seemed to be turning to avoid a direct lightning strike on Ervin, but could have made a fugitive helmet contact with the arm in which Ervin held the ball after chasing the punt.
"They said it was bad shape, but I thought it was good technique," Mostert said. "But I have to watch the movie, I know I tried to hold my head up, but I have to watch the movie."
"It's tough, but that's why we have a movie, so we can watch it and it
Defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu was called for unnecessary rudeness, lowering his helmet to contact while the passer-by rode against the Texans to attack Chad Slade, but Attaochu seemed to first stretch his arms to start his hands before anyone brought his helmet into contact with Slade's helmet.
"Actually I had no idea," said Attaochu, "I just tried to put his hands on his chest and turn into him, try to stay under him. I did not understand it. "
Taking the helmet out of combat has been a major issue for the NFL as a security issue and it is almost certain that there will be more complications and controversies as reigning teams have to make important and in some cases breakthrough calls in fractions of a second
"It's what they call it and at the end of the day, we can not argue with what they call it," Lee said. "I guess we'll see when we get out of preseason, if they change or how that changes or how it will affect us.
"At the same time you can not play hesitantly because a big game could happen for the offense, you just played your game and hope it's not a punishment."