NFL Evolution  

 

D.J. Swearinger hit that injured Dustin Keller creates debate

By Bill Bradley, contributing editor

Miami Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller was knocked out for the season Saturday after taking a helmet to his knee from D.J. Swearinger. The Houston Texans' rookie safety said the NFL needs to worry about knee injuries more than concussions now that players will hit lower to avoid striking the head.

Swearinger's statement has a lot of people around the league talking, including an NFL Network panel during a Tuesday segment on "NFL AM."

Eric Davis said he predicted a year ago that there would be a rash of lower leg injuries because of the ban on high hits.

"As long as the rule stays the same," said Davis, a former All-Pro defensive back with the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers. "I am completely on board with the rule changes, and you have to make the game safer. You have evidence now that you didn't have when I played about the concussions. You have some evidence out there that there are some long-term effects.

"All I said Day 1 is you need to make it a judgment call. (Baltimore Ravens safety) Ed Reed is not a dirty player. He gets fined every year for hitting someone going for the shoulder. ... But if you hit someone hard in the shoulder and you glance up -- and you can tell it's not a direct beeline to a guy's helmet -- you still get fined. So guys are getting lower and lower and lower because they don't want to get fined. You don't want to get fined, so now you're going to go at legs.

"Now the legs are your aiming point, so you're going to get more of these injuries because you're going to catch more guys in awkward positions."

Former NFL safety Jordan Babineaux said he consciously aimed low during the last few seasons of his career to avoid a head shot. But he said the target of hits is reactive because defenders have little time to think before a tackle.

"I've been in a position where I was a deep half-field safety near the sideline," Babineaux said. "I'm thinking one thing, and that is to run through that receiver. I can't go low. I've got to make a play on the ball, and I've got to get that ball out."

However, Babineaux said he thought Swearinger had a chance to go for the ball rather than Keller's knee.

"For one, my responsibility is to separate the receiver from the ball," Babineaux said. "... The thing that we've seen now with receivers (is that) their target zone changes because they're catching the ball and getting low, bracing themselves for the hit. ... Well, the receivers are putting the defenders in the position to have helmet-to-helmet contact because the target zone changes."

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