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ROY WILLIAMS: COLLARED TACKLING TECHNIQUE FAVORED BY COWBOYS STAR OUTLAWED.

Byline: Billy Witz Staff Writer

Roy Williams plays safety like a Cowboy, all right. He's rough, tough and chases down ballcarriers like they're runaway calves. All that's missing is a lasso and a pinch between his cheek and gum.

It's a style that's not only appreciated in Dallas, but also has won the 25-year-old Williams back-to-back trips to the Pro Bowl.

It's also earned him a black hat.

Williams' legal-but-roughneck method of hauling people down by the collar led to injuries to four players last year - three of them for the rest of the regular season - and prompted a rule change outlawing the technique.

Officially, it's known as the Horse Collaring Rule. Unofficially: the Roy Williams Rule.

``It's a rule that the league mandated, and I'm going to have to follow the rules,'' Williams said recently after a Cowboys practice in Oxnard. ``I'm not worrying about being targeted.''

The new rule prohibits ``grabbing the inside collar of the back or side of the shoulder pads and immediately pulling down the runner. This does not apply to a quarterback who is in the pocket.''

Violators will be hit with a 15-yard penalty and subject to fines by the league.

Tackles that are now outlawed resulted in six serious injuries last season, according to Falcons president Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee. Three of those tackles were made by Williams, the last and most prominent coming Dec. 19, when he dragged down Eagles receiver Terrell Owens, who returned for the Super Bowl after undergoing ankle surgery.

A month earlier, against Baltimore, Williams nearly wiped out all of the Ravens' tailbacks. Jamal Lewis suffered a sprained ankle that forced him to the sidelines, then backup Musa Smith suffered a compound fracture of his tibia when he was brought down by Williams.

In an exhibition game, Tennessee receiver Tyrone Calico suffered a season-ending knee injury when he was tackled by Williams.

Despite these tackles, league officials insist they are not going after the Dallas safety.

``We're not singling out Roy Williams,'' said Titans coach Jeff Fisher, the other chairman of the competition committee when the rule was first discussed at the NFL's annual meeting in March. ``We're singling out a technique.''

Despite the injuries, nobody connected the dots until members of the competition committee began their annual video review of injuries in the league after last season.

``It wasn't one team that said Dallas is tackling like this and putting people in jeopardy,'' said Mike Periera, the NFL's director of officiating. ``This wasn't even on the radar. It was just the committee looking at video, realizing there was this one technique that was creating the most injuries.''

Some coaches had a hard time believing horse-collaring should be banned but were swayed once they saw the video. The rule was tabled at the March meeting so the language could be refined. It passed in May by a 27-5 margin.

Sentiment in the locker room is not as unanimous. Good luck finding a defensive player in favor of the rule.

In a playoff game last year, Jets tailback Curtis Martin was just breaking into open space when Chargers linebacker Steve Foley launched himself in the air, grabbed Martin by the collar and pulled him down.

``It was the only thing I could do,'' said Foley, who is sure Martin would otherwise have scored a touchdown.

Now, Foley says, defensive players are faced with a new problem.

``What if I grab a guy by the collar, and he only needs a yard for a first down?'' Foley asked. ``Do I not pull him down and give up the first down? Either I get fined $7,000 by the league, or when we watch film, I get cursed out by the coaches.

``Come on. Football is instincts and reaction. It's not basketball, where you're waiting for somebody to set a screen. It's ludicrous.''

It isn't to receiver Reche Caldwell, who sits nearby in his cubicle in the Chargers' dressing room.

Caldwell suffered a season-ending knee injury last year when Atlanta cornerback Aaron Beasley grabbed him by the collar and pulled him out of bounds. Although the play, like a similar one that knocked out Carolina receiver Steve Smith for the season, would not be illegal this year - Caldwell was not pulled down immediately - he's in favor of the new rule.

``They just grab whatever's there - your jersey, your face mask, your shoulder pads,'' Caldwell said of defensive players. ``Of course, they're not going to like it, but it's going to prevent a lot of injuries.''

The question among coaches: How will the rule be enforced?

``We can legislate against that as long as it's officiated with common sense,'' said Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, who favors the rule.

``I'm for anything that protects the players, (but) how do you legislate against someone's instincts?'' asked Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, whose team opposed the rule.

``I've always had the most problem with ... the ball in the air, helmet-to-helmet stuff. When the ball's in the air, a defensive back is told to go get the ball. There's posters all over the playbook - see what you hit. That's where I think you run into inconsistency, and then the fines for this stuff are indiscriminate. It's like a kangaroo court.''

Parcells sighed.

``Don't get me started,'' he said.

Periera said he's instructed officials not to over-officiate the play.

``If you're 1,000 percent sure he grabbed inside the shoulder pads, if you're 1,000 percent sure he pulls him down immediately to the ground, then throw the flag,'' Periera said. ``If we miss one, the league can deal with it in terms of discipline. The last thing you'll see is an overreaction by us.''

Williams says the same goes for him.

``If I get put in the same position, would I make the same tackle?'' Williams said.

``Yes. I've been doing it since I was a little kid. It's a secure tackle. I do what I have to do. A tackle is a tackle. You've been taught to bring down an opponent by any means necessary.''

Billy Witz, (818) 713-3621

billy.witz(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Cowboys safety Roy Williams, left, tries to horse-collar Browns running back James Jackson. The tackling technique is forbidden this season.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

(2) Eagles receiver Terrell Owens, foreground, suffered a severe ankle injury when he was collared in a Dec. 19 game by Cowboys safety Roy Williams.

Michael Perez/Associated Press
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 20, 2005
Words:1082
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