GREEN BAY - As the NFL tries to take hits to the head out of the game, it may inadvertently bring the knees into more danger. Case in point: a Miami Dolphins preseason game against the Houston Texans, where safety DJ Swearinger hit tight end Dustin Keller in the knees, causing a serious injury and putting the tight end’s career in jeopardy.
“I was making a hit playing football. In this league, you've got to go low,” said Swearinger to the Palm Beach Post. “If you go high, you're going to get a fine."
Green Bay Packers safety Jerron McMillian saw that play.
“It's unfortunate to have something of that nature happen to a player, but you know, that's the way we've got to go about it sometimes,” said McMillian.
The second-year player McMillian, who was fined last season for a hit on a New York Giants tight end, does not endorse what happened to Keller. He does, however, admit defenders are tempted to go low sometimes as long as flags, and fines, keep flying for high hits.
“If you can't hit people helmet-to-helmet, and there's a lot of bigger guys out there, you're going to hit them in the legs,” said McMillian.
McMillian isn’t alone in his thoughts. Linebacker Terrell Manning was flagged for roughing the quarterback against the Seahawks for a hit on Brady Quinn. Manning says he is yet to be fined for the play. While his hit on Quinn still looks clean to Manning, he says he understands the idea of hitting an offensive player low.
“There's a lot of rules going on right now in the NFL, I don't know if we can change that or if we have anything to do with that,” said Manning, “but at the end of the day you've got to get a guy down any way you can."
Packers offensive players say they haven’t, or more accurately can’t, think about the possibility of their legs being targeted in hits.
“You can't worry,” said Packers receiver Randall Cobb. “Somebody could be going at your legs any play, you can't worry, you just have to go play football."
Fellow receiver Jarrett Boykin agrees.
"You want to play the game, things like that happen,” said Boykin. “Of course you don't want those things to happen, you've just got to, just play and don't think about it and hope it doesn't happen to you."
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy says he can’t worry about where his players are hit. He says its his, and his coaches’, responsibility to make sure his players know how to tackle the correct way.
"There's a drill we do in tackling that's done a couple times a week and that's exactly what we are teaching,” said McCarthy.
Defensive players still wonder, especially when their wallets become lighter after what they perceive as clean hits, if the game is changing, and they’ll be forced to adapt by hitting opponents lower.
"When you're going to hit somebody, you're going to hit somebody,” said McMillian. “You're not thinking about how you hit them, you just make sure you're making the tackle, get them down on the ground. If that's coming low, however, it's part of the game. The only thing we're concerned about it not making helmet-to-helmet. Everything else is all go.”
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