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    Default NFL: 'Good start' after crackdown

    http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=5725918

    NFL: 'Good start' after crackdown
    Associated Press

    NEW YORK -- One week after drawing heavy fines for illegal hits, James Harrison and Brandon Meriweather were praised by the NFL for clean play in Sunday's victories.

    Ray Anderson, the league's executive vice president of football operations, told The Associated Press on Monday that Meriweather and Harrison "heeded our emphasis" on eliminating fouls and deserve to be lauded. So do others, Anderson said, after no flags were thrown for illegal hits to defenseless players in the 13 games.

    "We like to think we're off to a good start in terms of the new emphasis and the recognition that we are going to play aggressively but well within the rules. It's a good start."-- Ray Anderson

    Harrison was fined $75,000 and Meriweather $50,000 for hits to defenseless opponents last week, when the NFL announced it would begin suspending players for such tackles.

    "We like to think we're off to a good start in terms of the new emphasis and the recognition that we are going to play aggressively but well within the rules," Anderson said. "It's a good start."

    "Brandon Meriweather, specifically, last week we were appropriately calling him out and chastising him," he added. "Yesterday in the Patriots' game at San Diego, Meriweather made two very tenacious, effective and legal hits in similar situations. But you could see it, he lowered the target area, blasted the opponent with his shoulder. He adapted, showing it can be done. It is appropriate to praise him for the tough play."

    Patriots coach Bill Belichick was surprised to hear about Anderson's praise.

    "I think that would be a first for me," Belichick said Monday. "The officials are now evaluating the players and their performance. No, I mean that's great."

    He then paused several seconds before adding: "I can't tell you how much that means to me, really," drawing laughter from a room full of reporters.

    Anderson also mentioned Harrison, who skipped one day of practice last week and said he contemplated retirement rather than change how he plays. But Harrison played cleanly in a win at Miami, particularly on a play in which Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown already was being hit by Steelers linebacker Larry Foote.

    "There certainly was one play, on a hit on a running back, that James Harrison may have taken a shot at the running back going down, and Harrison let up," Anderson said. "I think he acknowledged he let up when had a chance to put his head and helmet in there. I applaud James for restraining himself."

    Harrison recalled the play and how he pulled up near Brown when he realized it would be a high hit.

    "Other than one play, I was fine," Harrison said. "I wasn't trying to send a message [by playing cleanly]. There was no extra motivation for this or any other game. I was just out there playing the game the way that I've been taught to play it since I was 10 years old."

    Harrison still seemed to believe the crackdown stemmed from the press coverage of the previous weekend's flagrant tackles.

    "Maybe if that was the only one that happened," he said of his hit on Cleveland receiver Mohamed Massaquoi that drew the hefty fine, "it wouldn't have transpired the way it did. But there were three or four other hits. It caused a real media storm and I guess they felt they had to do something and they got everybody."

    This week, they probably won't get anyone, judging by Anderson's comments.

    One hit that was questioned came in Tennessee's victory over Philadelphia. Titans running back Chris Johnson was headed down the right sideline when he was slammed helmet-to-helmet by Eagles linebacker Ernie Sims. No flag was thrown -- correctly.

    Anderson explained that Johnson was a runner with the ball heading downfield and was anything but a defenseless player. Sims' hit was well within the rules.

    "It's never been an intention to legislate all helmet-to-helmet hits out of the game," said Anderson, a member of the NFL's competition committee and one of the league's loudest voices about player safety. "We just are trying to make sure when a player is in a defenseless situation, he is not hit in the head or neck area."

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    Default Re: NFL: 'Good start' after crackdown

    http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=5722954

    NFL sends second hit memo to teams
    ESPN.com news services


    WASHINGTON -- The NFL sent head coaches memos before this week's games listing their players who were called for two or more unnecessary roughness penalties since 2008 -- yet another step in the league's effort to cut down on illegal hits.

    NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson sent each coach the names of only his own players who have multiple infractions, league spokesman Greg Aiello said Sunday.


    Anderson is a member of the league's competition committee and one of its loudest voices calling for improving player safety.

    The lists were sent Friday.

    "The purpose was to provide an opportunity for the coach to give extra caution to those players to abide by the safety rules," Aiello wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "It was part of our effort to give fair notice to help players stay within the rules."

    Aiello would not give the total number of players identified in the memos.

    After a series of illegal hits last weekend, the NFL imposed larger-than-usual fines on three players: Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison was docked $75,000, while New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather and Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson lost $50,000 each.

    No players were penalized for illegal hits to the head over the 13 games on Sunday, giving the league every reason to believe its message got through.

    "I've seen a change in players' behavior in one week," NFL officiating chief Carl Johnson was quoted as telling NBC on "Football Night in America."

    In the past, players were either fined or ejected for illegal hits. But the NFL is ramping up the punishment, saying it will make sure there is stricter enforcement of rules that have been in place. The league also warned that, starting with this Sunday's games, violent conduct will be cause for suspension.

    Harrison played along, returning to the field after a tumultuous week in which he received a fine from the NFL and briefly threatened to retire. He called it business as usual -- well, except for one particular play, when he saw Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown coming across the middle.

    "I had a chance to put my head in there, and it looked like he was crouching down," Harrison said. "I didn't want to get a helmet-to-helmet [hit]. I didn't put my face in there, and he went down, and luckily he didn't scamper for another 10 or 15 yards."

    Commissioner Roger Goodell sent teams a memo on Wednesday "to emphasize the importance of teaching safe and controlled techniques" related to "contact to the head and neck." A video was sent to the 32 teams explaining what hits are considered legal and illegal.

    In Cleveland's victory over Super Bowl champion New Orleans, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita thought he saw instances of defenders going low when they might have had clean shots higher up.

    "Now you've got guys whose ankles are going to be taken out and knees are going to get blown up," Fujita said, "so it's kind of a Catch 22 if you ask me."

    The NFL also will consider after this season a policy in which a player who knocks out an opponent for a certain number of games could be suspended for a corresponding number of games, according to an NFL official.


    DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, issued a statement regarding the crackdown on Saturday that focused on the league's position on health care if there is a lockout next season, worker's compensation and disabled veterans.


    "The issue of player safety is bigger than just hits on Sunday," Smith said in the statement. "Players understand the difference between aggressive, split-second actions and dangerous play. In addition to this sudden new emphasis on player safety, players call on the NFL to fulfill its obligation to health care in a lockout, end nasty litigation against nearly 300 players' workers compensation cases and stop saying 'no' to the disability benefits of NFL legends.



    "While there are a range of punishments available as part of the on-field discipline system, the NFLPA will ensure the NFL strictly adhere to the existing rules and disciplinary process. We will also enforce the return to play guidelines and safety protocols and practices that occur out of the public eye.

    "Our mission is to remain aggressive on player safety both on and off the field."



    However, as if to illustrate the point that head injuries can't simply be willed out of a violent sport, there were some more Sunday.

    Arizona rookie quarterback Max Hall left the Cardinals' game at Seattle in the third quarter after he received what the team announced was a "blow to the head" on Chris Clemons' blindside sack.

    In Atlanta, Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud collided helmet-to-helmet with Bengals running back Cedric Benson, and DeCoud needed help getting off the field after that one. No penalty was called, and Falcons coach Mike Smith said DeCoud was not allowed back in the game.

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    Default Re: NFL: 'Good start' after crackdown

    http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news?slu...ts-firstsunday

    NFL players adjust to crackdown on illegal hits
    By EDDIE PELLS, AP Sports Writers
    Oct 25, 4:27 am EDT

    Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith had Steelers receiver Hines Ward lined up, ready to deliver the big hit. Instead of going high, he went for Ward’s legs. No fine or penalty for that one.

    It was the sort of play that, most Sundays, would have gone unnoticed, especially because Ward returned to the field a play later after getting his knees checked out.

    This Sunday was different, though, because it marked the first set of games since the NFL said it would be cracking down on illegal hits, handing out fines and threatening suspensions. Actually, Ward’s brief absence, and the almost total lack of big shots in other NFL games, made it look a lot like any given Sunday, even if it’s still too early to tell for sure how things are—or aren’t — going to change over time.

    “It’s football,” Ward said. “If you play this game worried about getting hurt, you will get hurt. It’s a fearless game, it’s a physical game, so the rule is the rule. You can’t play this game scared. If you do, you won’t last long.”

    With all of the day’s 13 games complete, there were no cringe-inducing hits to replay on the highlight shows—nothing the likes of what James Harrison, Brandon Meriweather and Dunta Robinson delivered last weekend in a spate of vicious plays that brought about hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, along with repeated reminders that the league would be watching more closely from now on.

    By sending out its various warnings—a memo from Commissioner Roger Goodell, a video showing can- and can’t-dos, lists sent to coaches letting them know which players have multiple unnecessary roughness penalties—the NFL is looking for more certainty in a sport that has many shades of gray.

    One bit of black and white: No players were penalized for illegal hits to the head in any of the 13 games, giving the league every reason to believe its message got through.

    “I’ve seen a change in players’ behavior in one week,” NFL officiating chief Carl Johnson was quoted as telling Peter King on NBC’s “Football Night in America.”

    Ward’s Steelers teammate, Harrison, played along, returning to the field after a tumultuous week in which he received a $75,000 fine from the NFL and briefly threatened to retire. He called it business as usual—well, except for one particular play, when he saw Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown coming across the middle.

    “I had a chance to put my head in there, and it looked like he was crouching down,” Harrison said. “I didn’t want to get a helmet-to-helmet (hit). I didn’t put my face in there, and he went down, and luckily he didn’t scamper for another 10 or 15 yards.”

    Harrison wasn’t the only player who said he occasionally had the NFL’s tougher stance on his mind.

    “For sure,” Carolina linebacker Jon Beason said. “I definitely think you’ll think about it; $75,000 is crazy.”

    In Cleveland’s victory over Super Bowl champion New Orleans, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita thought he saw instances of defenders going low when they might have had clean shots higher up.

    “Now you’ve got guys whose ankles are going to be taken out and knees are going to get blown up,” Fujita said, “so it’s kind of a Catch 22 if you ask me.”

    Baltimore’s notoriously hard-hitting defense gave up a season-high 34 points before pulling out an overtime victory over winless Buffalo, and some Ravens were thinking about the rules. Players in both defensive backfields appeared to give up chances for big hits on receivers, going after the ball instead.

    “We touched on that at halftime. We harped on it. The coaches talked about it,” safety Ed Reed said. “We talked about it, with the fines and all that coming out. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to play football, and you’ve got to be smart playing it.”

    Meriweather played smarter. Early in New England’s game against San Diego, he had a chance to tee up San Diego receiver Patrick Crayton, but went after him with his shoulder. Crayton popped up after the 11-year gain and signaled first down.

    In Seattle, Cardinals defensive back Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had a free shot at Brandon Stokley(notes) but went shoulder-to-chest to knock him down.

    In New Orleans, Saints cornerback Malcolm Jenkins made a run at Browns fullback Lawrence Vickers but went low.

    Not everyone was perfect, though.

    Philadelphia linebacker Ernie Sims lowered his head and appeared to use his helmet to knock Tennessee running back Chris Johnson out of bounds, and Titans fans started booing after watching the replay of the unpenalized play on the scoreboard.

    Sims said he saw Johnson fighting for extra yards and knew he needed to make a play. Neither player was concerned about a possible fine.

    “If the ref calls it, then he” does, Johnson said. “I’m not really worried about it.”

    As if to illustrate the point that head injuries can’t simply be willed out of a violent sport, there were some more Sunday.

    Arizona rookie quarterback Max Hall left the Cardinals’ game at Seattle in the third quarter after he received what the team announced was a “blow to the head” on Chris Clemons’ blindside sack.

    In Atlanta, Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud collided helmet-to-helmet with Bengals running back Cedric Benson, and DeCoud needed help getting off the field after that one. No penalty was called, and Falcons coach Mike Smith said DeCoud was not allowed back in the game.

    In the stands, there were indications that fans had taken notice of the issue after being bombarded by news about the hard hits and the fines. A sign at Lambeau Field before Sunday night’s Vikings-Packers game read, “Stop the concussions we want the players to remember us.”

    Not surprisingly, players’ opinions about whether things had changed were divided—sometimes even in the same locker room.

    “It was in the back of my mind on a couple of plays,” said Falcons defensive end John Abraham, who had two sacks against the Bengals. “I had a shot and held off.”

    But across the way, linebacker Mike Peterson said the Falcons made a point of not holding back.

    “The thing we’ve been saying in our locker room (is): We’re going to let everybody else tone it down, and we’re going to turn it up,” Peterson said.

    Still, the league is making it plain where it stands: Players need to put the brakes on.

    “On some plays where I had a clear shot at the quarterback, I kind of slowed down and made sure I hit him in the right spot,” Dolphins defensive end Tony McDaniels said. “I definitely think it slows us down. When you think about a $75,000 fine or a $50,000 fine, for some guys, that’s four or five game checks.”

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