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Palm Beach Post (Florida)
By Brian Biggane Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

If the choice is between a torn ACL and a concussion, Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace leaves no doubt which he would prefer.

"Concuss me," Wallace said Tuesday. "If I suffer three concussions, I'm willing to bet at 60 I'll still be able to think straight. Three torn ACLs mean your career is over."

Concerned about an increase in concussions, the NFL told its players this season that head shots would no longer be tolerated, and that message has been reinforced with hefty fines.

But brutal albeit legal shots to the knees of two tight ends, Miami's Dustin Keller in the preseason and New England's Rob Gronkowski on Sunday, both of which resulted in torn ACLs, have energized the debate over high hits vs. low blows.

Houston safety D.J. Swearinger, whose hit ended Keller's season before it began, and Cleveland safety T.J. Ward, who took out Gronkowski, insisted afterward the league's emphasis on avoiding head shots left them no choice but to go low.

"If you aim at the torso guys start ducking," Ward told the Boston Globe on Sunday. "So to avoid that, you have to aim even lower. I'm wondering where it's going to go from here."

He's not alone. Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes, who was booed in Pittsburgh on Sunday for his high hit (which did not draw a flag) on receiver Antonio Brown, agreed that the target area has gotten much smaller.

"I don't think necessarily you have to go for the knees," said Grimes, who will face a Gronk-less Patriots offense on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium. "But you might think you're trying to aim lower and mistakenly hit the knee. That's what I think is happening. The fines are so steep."

That they are. Tampa Bay safety Dashon Goldson, a two-time Pro Bowler while with San Francisco, was assessed $100,000 this season for helmet-to-helmet hits in consecutive games. Washington safety Brandon Meriweather was docked $45,000 for a shot to the head of Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy.

NFL Network analyst Joe Theismann believes the league needs to act immediately to discourage tacklers from aiming for the knees.

"This is a problem that should have been addressed in preseason, and now it will have to be addressed after the season," he said. "But right now the league should send an official to each team and tell the players this: If you go low, you're out of the game and suspended for the next one."

Cornerback Nolan Carroll agrees that there is a problem but said solving it won't be easy.

Holding his hand at head level and dropping it to thigh level, Carroll said, "It's hard to go from hitting up here to hitting down here. A lot of guys are trying for anywhere from the knee up to the torso. But with a lot of guys, you launch into a guy's body and you're going to bounce off, especially with the bigger tight ends.

"So the safest thing is to take their legs out, (and) unfortunately guys are going lower than normal. They're not trying to hurt anybody; they're just trying to get a guy on the ground.

"If you hit and bounce off, the coach is going to be mad at you and say you should have made the tackle. If you hit him low and get him on the ground, nobody's complaining."

Carroll said he knows Ward and is convinced he didn't target Gronkowski's knee Sunday.

"T.J. is a hard hitter, so when he saw (Gronkowski) catch the pass, his thought was, 'I've got to get him on the ground. This guy is a big dude.' He took the best angle possible. It's just unfortunate he hit him so hard he messed up his knee."

Former Dolphins receiver O.J. McDuffie said he doesn't envy the conundrum defensive backs face every time they line up a receiver nowadays. But he agreed with Wallace that a hit to the head is better than a shot to the knee.

"We've all been woozy," McDuffie said. "Hopefully you can shake it off. But that knee thing -- those hits are gruesome. They've got to address that somehow."

Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline thinks too many flags are being thrown for hard hits already and doesn't expect the NFL to go any further.

"This league has been built on violence and athletic prowess and the strength of people," he said, "and to go back on that would be an injustice to the sport."

bbiggane@pbpost.com Twitter: @bbiggane

sunday's game

Patriots at Dolphins, 1 p.m., CBS

 

December 11, 2013
 

 

 
 

 

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