The anger over Dustin Keller's season-ending knee injury as the result of a low hit by Texans safety D.J. Swearinger was understandable. No one wants to see a player get hurt that way. But the outrage took an unfortunate turn when prominent tight ends Tony Gonzalez of the Falcons and Kellen Winslow Jr. of the Jets suggested they'd rather be hit in the head than the knee.
"Hitting a defenseless player in the knee, that's something we all dread as players," Gonzalez told USA Today. "That's my nightmare. Hit me in my head [instead]."
Winslow agreed, taking the issue a step further on his Twitter account. "Here's my point," he wrote. "Concussion=missed time pass test your back, Lower Leg injury like DK's last night=done for season."
In an era when there has never been more attention focused on head injuries, both comments were ill-advised and naïve. With more than 4,000 former players suing the league over what they consider the league's purposeful mistreatment of head injuries, Gonzalez and Winslow suggesting that it's better to suffer a concussion than risk a knee injury smacks of ignorance.
How about not linking the two injuries at all, and instead suggesting that defensive players need to be more mindful of not going at another player's knees to make the tackle.
Swearinger admitted he went low on Keller because he feared getting fined if he aimed too high and hit Keller in the head while making the tackle. A defender has to make a split-second decision, and Swearinger decided to go low, a tackle that is legal under NFL guidelines.
It was a bit of an awkward collision because of the way Keller was positioned, and the result was a knee injury that put Keller out for the year -- if not longer.
But Gonzalez and Winslow saying they'd rather get hit in the head isn't the way to advance the debate here. Emphasizing the need for defensive players to tackle below the shoulders and above the knees is how the frequency of these hits can be reduced. Replacing a head shot with a knee hit isn't the way to go.
An 18-game season kaput?
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has floated the possibility of an 18-game regular season several times in recent years, an idea that rings hollow in light of the league's increased emphasis on player safety. But it sounds as if the 16-game season is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.
"I think with all the concerns about the health and safety of players, it's hard to justify," Packers president Mark Murphy, a former NFL defensive back, said in an interview with the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "To go from 16 to 18 regular-season [games] would be a lot more wear and tear. It would be additional games for your starters."
Cromartie wants two-a-days
One of the big concessions NFL players won in the latest collective-bargaining agreement was a reduction in practices, both during training camp and the regular season. Gone are two-a-day practices in pads, and in its place is a much less rigorous training regimen.
But not everyone likes the new arrangement. In fact, if Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie had his way, the NFL would go back to two-a-days.
"I still wish we had two-a-days, because you get to actually see what guys can really handle," Cromartie said. "With two-a-days, you've got the mental challenge of getting up and knowing you have another padded practice that same day and having to go through another whole practice again."
Cromartie, 29, thinks today's less demanding schedule doesn't adequately prepare players for the regular season. And that's coming from a player who started off in the NFL under disciplinarian coach Marty Schottenheimer with the Chargers.
"In my rookie year [in 2006] in San Diego, we had two-a-day practices, and by week four, we didn't have any more padded practices because we didn't need them," he said. "We knew how to practice, and that was the standard Marty had. He wanted a physical- type team, and that's where you got it from."
Antonio Cromartie doesn't like recent rules changes that have led to an increase in pass plays: "Just let football be football," the Jets cornerback said. "We signed up for it and this is what we've been playing since we were knee- high. When you want to change something for the better, sometimes it's for the worse."
Seattle is being very careful with oft-injured wide receiver Sidney Rice, who has missed some time with a knee injury. His presence is especially important because of a hip problem that will force newly acquired receiver Percy Harvin to miss a big chunk of the regular season.
Houston is remaining optimistic that Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster, who has had back and calf problems, will be ready for the start of the regular season.