Vikings defenders wary of NFL's crackdowns on illegal hits
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- On the same day NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to all 32 teams regarding increased discipline for illegal hits, several Minnesota Vikings defenders lamented the difficulty of avoiding incidental or borderline violations that now could earn them hefty fines or even suspensions.
"In your mind, it's hard to make it click," linebacker Chad Greenway said before practice on Wednesday.
"'Oh, he's defenseless. I've got to wait, let him come down and then make the tackle.' By that time, you're out of position. ... But as a defender, we obviously know it's out there now, so I guess we have to be more aware of it."
On Tuesday, the league handed out $175,000 in fines to three players -- Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison ($75,000), Atlanta cornerback Dunta Robinson ($50,000) and New England safety Brandon Meriweather ($50,000) -- for hits it deemed "flagrant violations of player safety rules."
"It's steep," safety Jamarca Sanford said. "Fifty-thousand dollars, seventy-five thousand dollars coming out your check for something that you've been doing all your life. But at the same time, you don't want to leave no one man on the ground, hurt with a concussion or knocking someone out."
On Wednesday, Goodell informed teams that heftier discipline -- including suspensions -- would be imposed for illegal hits to the head and neck area, which had been a point of emphasis since the preseason.
Each club was instructed to show an accompanying video to players that provide examples of legal and illegal hits. In addition to fines and suspensions, the memo said game officials "have been directed to emphasize protecting players from illegal and dangerous hits, and particularly from hits to the head and neck" and can eject players during the game.
"It is clear to me," Goodell wrote, "that further action is required to emphasize importance of teaching safe and controlled techniques and of playing within the rules. It is incumbent on all of us to support the rules we have in place to protect players."
The change has generated mixed response, with a number of defensive players around the league expressing concern about not only the increased penalties, but the disparity in rules governing offensive and defensive players.
For instance, a running back is allowed to lower his head against a defender, but if the defender also lowers his head and there is helmet-to-helmet contact, the defender can be penalized.
"I don't think anyone in this locker room is going to change the way they play right now," linebacker Ben Leber said. "I think it remains to be seen how they're going to judge these things and how picky."
Sanford said he understood the danger of helmet-to-helmet contact but didn't see anything wrong with the hit laid by Robinson, who put his shoulder into DeSean Jackson's chest and left the Philadelphia receiver with a concussion.
Harrison, whose fine was larger because he's a repeat offender, was excused from practice on Wednesday and told a radio show he's contemplating retirement because he no longer can play the game as he knows how.
No one else is going to that extreme, but several Vikings said they won't do anything differently.
"I don't know that you can do it the right way," cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "Everything's moving so fast. It's going to be hard for you to judge where a guy's going to put his head and you put your head opposite -- that's just not going to happen."