Redskins see confusion in NFL's helmet-hit crackdown

ASHBURN, Va. -- It's called the "hit stick," and it's awarded to the Washington Redskins special teams player who has the best hit in a victory.

It's currently in the possession of Mike Sellers. He's quite proud that No. 45 -- his jersey number -- has been placed on the stick twice already this season.

But glorifying a big hit isn't in vogue this week.

"All I know is I better not hit nobody in the head because I really don't want no fine," Sellers said. "This game right now has become so stringent, it's kind of ridiculous."

Such talk has been heard in locker room in every NFL city this week as the league cracks down on illegal hits, issuing huge fines and threatening suspensions for offenders. The concern among the Redskins is that it's not always clear-cut what is legal and what is not, and whether or not the league will differentiate between what is intentional and what is accidental.

"I saw some of those hits, and I've got question marks myself," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "So if I've got question marks, I'm sure some of these players do as well. ... They show some of the hits, and some are flagrant. And other ones are -- at least from my perspective -- you can question them. At the end of the day, hopefully we'll get a little closer to being on the same page and we can do what's in the best interest of the players and try to protect them as much as we can -- and still have a quality game at the same time."

Shanahan said he didn't address the issue with the team this week, but Sellers said there are players who no doubt will start thinking twice before levying a blow. Such hesitation on the playing field could mean the difference between making a tackle and allowing a touchdown.

"We're already limited so much in what we can do as it is," Sellers said. "Now everybody's just kind of thinking about the fines in the back of their heads: 'Should I make this hit or should I not?'"

Safety LaRon Landry, one of the hardest hitters in the league, said there was no reason to change his approach. He learned his lesson when he was fined for helmet-to-helmet hits during his rookie year, when he said he went some "two months without seeing a paycheck." Do it right, he said, and there's no reason to worry.

"I'm not going to change at all. That's how you get hurt, if you change, slow down or try to alter your play," Landry said. "Head to head, that's a no-brainer. I mean, why would you do that? You already know that's a fine. You can try to avoid and eliminate helmet-to-helmet contact. That's nothing new."

Several players said the change in emphasis could lead to more knee injuries as would-be tacklers aim lower. Even then, a head injury could occur because ball carriers often lower their heads as well.

"They duck down," Sellers said, "and you're going for the chest and you hit them in the head. I don't know if we should be fined for that."

Special teams players are especially susceptible to high-speed collisions. It has reached the point where Phillip Buchanon, who has returned kickoffs and punts in his career, would rather not return kickoffs any more.

"Kickoff returns is a dangerous situation," Buchanon said. "Not saying I wouldn't do it -- if I had to do it, I would do anything to help the team -- but I prefer punt returns over kick returns because in punt returns you have guys running down and you have guys blocking guys running down.

"But kickoff returns is a head-on collision. If there's one missed block, that's a crucial, crucial hit."

The Redskins know well how a helmet-to-helmet hit can affect a team. Running back Clinton Portis sat out half of the season last year with a severe concussion. Linebacker Rocky McIntosh missed Sunday's loss to the Indianapolis Colts with a mild concussion, although he practiced Wednesday and appears set to return for this week's game at Chicago.

Tight end Chris Cooley had to leave the Indianapolis game with a mild concussion. He was able to run sprints Wednesday and might return to practice Thursday.

Such physical violence, as painful as it sounds, is an unavoidable part of the game, according to veteran defensive end Phillip Daniels.

"All our life we were told to be physical, to go out and hit people. My mom signed a waiver when we first started playing. They knew how dangerous this sport was," Daniels said. "This sport's always lived off the reputation of being physical, going out hitting people. Fans love hits, and that's the bottom line."

Note: Shanahan said he plans to have DL Albert Haynesworth active for this weekend's game. Haynesworth missed two games after the death of his half brother in a motorcycle accident.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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