Debate on low tackles resumes


T.J. Ward's low but legal hit on New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has reopened the debate on the NFL eliminating tackles below the knees.

The debate started in the first full week of preseason games when Houston Texans rookie safety D.J. Swearinger delivered a shot to the knees that ended the season of Miami Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller. No one was surprised when Keller sent out a tweet after the Gronkowski season-ending ACL injury that said, "something has to be done about these low hits!!!"

While there is no doubt the competition committee will discuss low hits during the offseason, I don't think there will be any change. Safety is at the top of the committee's agenda every year. But every committee member knew the game was going to change when the rules were changed to try to eliminate hits above the shoulders.

It's not as if the committee wanted to trade concussions for ACL injuries, but something had to give when defensive players lost the ability to hit the head or neck areas. Eliminating the low hits would change the strike zone for a defender so much that defenders would be at a complete loss trying to tackle.

Believe it or not, Swearinger is a big part of that discussion. In college, he had a reputation for making high hits that could lead to concussions. In his first game as a pro, he showed the ability to alter where he was going to make a hit. If you can't hit high, you are left with only the chest, the midsection and the knees. He made the proper adjustments.

Tackling isn't an exact science. Defenders are coming at full speed trying to figure out where to make a tackle on a player who might be bigger. Ward was playing safety in the middle of the field. Had he let Gronkowski get behind him, the Patriots would have scored a touchdown.

He made the choice to hit low knowing he would be fined if he hit high. Unfortunately, Gronkowski became a victim of a physical sport.

The elimination of the low hit to go with the elimination of the high hit would be an injustice to defenders. Such a change would be the equivalent of adjusting the strike zone of a pitcher in baseball so he would throw balls instead of strikes 60 to 70 percent of the time.

Plus, there would be no guarantee injuries would stop. You would have more cracked ribs or damaged hips. Football is a game of collisions. Narrowing the location of the hits isn't going to soften the impact. Different areas of an offensive player's body would suffer the damage.

The committee will discuss it, but I don't see a change.

From the inbox

Q: Could the increased injuries in the NFL lead to teams eventually emphasizing versatility, with players developing abilities to play multiple positions? It would seem to be a logical long-term development for teams to return to the days when, say, a guy like George Blanda could be both a place-kicker and a backup quarterback.

Brian in Fishers, Ind.

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