When it comes to getting hit by a defensive player, Tony Gonzalez would prefer that they aim high, despite rules changes aimed at reducing head injuries in the sport.
The topic came up after D.J. Swearinger, the Houston Texans’ rookie safety, tore up Miami Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller’s knee last weekend with a low hit that infuriated players and triggered debate about whether a new culture of low hits exists in the league.
“That was ridiculous on his part. It should be a fineable offense,” Gonzalez told USA Today. “That’s just not part of football — hitting a defenseless player in his knee. That’s something we all dread as players,” Gonzalez told USA Today. “That’s my nightmare. Hit me in my head [instead].
“Any player who does that, I don’t like it at all. I have no respect for that.”
Keller tore his anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments, his medial collateral ligament and dislocated his knee. Swearinger defended his play, saying, “with the rules in this era, you’ve got to hit low. If I would have hit him high, I would have gotten a fine. So I think I made the smartest play. I’m sorry it happened. Right now, it’s just instinct. You see somebody come across the middle, you’ve got to go low. You’re going to cost your team 15 yards.”
Swearinger was neither flagged nor fined for his hit and Gonzalez, who rejoined the Falcons last weekend after an abbreviated retirement, was unmoved by Swearinger’s explanation, as was Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline, who said Swearinger’s rationale was “crap.”
“You have a whole target area above his knee up to his neck that you can hit,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve watched that play a bunch of times. I’d rather have a guy hit my head than knife at my knee. You’re talking about a career-ending injury. It’s going to be so hard for Dustin to come back off of that. It should be a fineable offense, just like going for the head is.”
The NFL’s Competition Committee plans to take another look at the hit, which Dean Blandino, the vice president of officiating, said was legal because the crown of the helmet was not involved. The Chicago Bears’ rookie linebacker, Jon Bostic, was fined $21,000 because the crown of his helmet was involved in a hit on San Diego Chargers wide receiver Mike Willie. That fine infuriated Bostic’s teammate, Lance Briggs.
“Keller is considered a defenseless player. He’s a receiver attempting to catch a pass,” Blandino said on “NFL Total Access.” “He’s protected in two ways: He’s protected on hits to the head or neck area. And he’s protected on hits to the body with the crown or full head hairline of the helmet.
“Those rules do not prohibit low contact like you see here. It is a legal hit with an unfortunate result, something that the Competition Committee will continue to look at as we do look at all player injuries during the season. But it is a legal hit.”