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Jets RB Chris Ivory says he doesn't think about what all those hits will do to him

Chris Ivory #33 of the Jets scores a

Chris Ivory #33 of the Jets scores a touchdown during the third quarter against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Oct. 16, 2014 in Foxborough, Mass. Credit: Getty Images / Jim Rogash

Chris Ivory lines up behind Geno Smith awaiting the snap. On first-and-10 from the Patriots' 32, Ivory takes the handoff from Smith, finds a hole up the middle and charges straight ahead.

Three Patriots defenders surround Ivory to slow him down before safety Devin McCourty comes thundering in to deliver one final blow, bringing Ivory down after a 9-yard gain.

This Week 7 play is a typical run for Ivory, whose physical style invariably leads to explosive collisions with defenders on a regular basis. His punishing style is reminiscent of other aggressive runners who never shied away from contact, even if they wound up paying a price after their careers ended.

Former Oilers bruiser Earl Campbell, who wound up in a wheelchair, comes to mind. Tony Dorsett relied more on speed but took his share of hits, and he now is having memory problems from all those shots he absorbed.

Former Jets running back Thomas Jones reports post-concussion issues, too, as do thousands of other former players who wound up suing the league over concussions.

But Ivory isn't concerned about what the accumulation of hits will do to his body after his career is over. And he certainly doesn't fret over concussions, because he has suffered only one during his NFL career, and that was when he was with the Saints in 2010.

"I just don't worry about it,'' he said. "No explanation, I just don't.''

Ivory certainly is aware of stories such as the one belonging to Campbell, whose many hits have led to chronic pain and necessitated many surgical procedures over the years, including recent knee replacement surgery. He often needs a wheelchair to get around.

"I've heard about Earl Campbell and heard about some of the stories, but I don't think I will have a problem with the way I play,'' said Ivory, who leads the Jets with 88 carries for 432 yards and three touchdowns.

One reason: Ivory doesn't have the same workload that Campbell and others of his generation shouldered. The NFL increasingly is moving toward a running-backs-by-committee approach, spreading the carries among several running backs instead of relying on one feature back.

"If it was back in the day, where carries the ball on every play, then it could be an issue,'' Ivory said. "[Jerome Bettis], he was getting a lot of carries. But this is all I've known, being a part of a rotation. So that helps me.''

Another reason Ivory doesn't concern himself with bodily harm, especially when it comes to concussions: He insists he doesn't make much helmet-to-helmet contact.

"I don't really hit with my head,'' he said. "I hit more with my shoulders. It might look like I hit with my head, but it's just not the case.''

For every NFL player, there is a certain degree of denial required, if for no other reason than to block out the fear of injury. In a collision sport in which players frequently have to deal with pain of some sort -- whether it's caused by physical wear and tear or the result of direct hits -- most players try not to think about the consequences of playing such a demanding sport.

Despite the increased awareness of the dangers of the sport, highlighted in part by an ongoing concussion-related lawsuit brought by more than 5,000 former players, today's players need to maintain their focus simply to survive the rigors of an NFL season. But the risks do cross their minds, even if Ivory isn't quite to that point.

The concussion risk is particularly troublesome for many players, especially after the recent release of a study conducted by the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. According to researchers there, 76 of 79 brains of deceased former football players showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes with a history of repetitive brain trauma.

"Any time you practice in pads, it's rough, especially with the guys on the lines,'' said Giants defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, who suffered a calf injury in last Sunday's 31-21 loss to the Cowboys and might miss some time. "You're going to get hit every play, regardless of whether it's a run or pass. Every play you're hitting. It's part of the game, but you do think about it.''

Jenkins, 33, says he's sometimes forgetful off the field, although he's unsure whether it is a normal function of the aging process or related to playing in the NFL.

"You don't know if it's just because you're getting older or if it's got to do with all the years of hitting,'' he said. "You definitely think about it.''

Giants long-snapper Zak DeOssie, the team's union representative, said players need to think about the long-term consequences of the game.

"I think about it all the time,'' he said. "We know the risks of playing this game, and it's scary. We've all taken dings and know how it feels.''

DeOssie's father, Steve, a former Giants linebacker and long-snapper who also played for the Cowboys, Jets and Patriots, has not experienced any significant physical or mental problems stemming from playing football, according to Zak.

"He played 13 years, and his body is healthy and his brain is healthy,'' Zak DeOssie said. "He still kicks my butt in Jeopardy, and he hasn't mentioned any sort of decline. But he can't say the same for some of his teammates, who are having problems.''

Ivory prefers to block out any fear or doubt about his physical well-being, a mindset that many other players subscribe to, lest they start thinking too much about the risks and sacrifice the aggressiveness that makes them excel at the sport.

The hits will keep on coming for Ivory. He'll think about the consequences another day. Now is simply not the time.

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