Sunday NFL insider: Vikings' Smith laments end of hard-hitting era for safeties

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 14, 2013 - 10:01 PM

Policing of upper-body shots leaves safety conflicted.

hide

Browns safety T.J. Ward (43) avoided a possible fine by going low to bring down Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski on Dec. 8, but the result was a season-ending torn ACL for Gronkowski.

Photo: Steve Senne • Associated Press,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Harrison Smith is a throwback safety trying to figure out how to play a position that’s increasingly foreign to him because of the NFL’s zealous enforcement of rules against hitting offensive players in the head.

“The game has changed over time, for good or for bad,” the Vikings second-year free safety said. “People talk about safeties that used to cause people to fear coming over the middle. Now, I don’t think anyone fears coming over the middle because there are no consequences anymore. It’s an offensive game. That’s just how it’s built.”

As Smith prepared for Sunday’s return from a turf-toe injury that sidelined him for eight weeks — he was activated Saturday — he and everyone else saw what has been discussed all week as a classic example of the ugly flip side of conditioning defensive backs to hit low.

A week ago, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski caught a pass down the middle of the field and took a hard, direct shot to the right knee from Browns safety T.J. Ward. A day later, ESPN reported that Gronkowski was the 41st player put on season-ending injured reserve because of an anterior cruciate ligament injury. With three weeks left in the season, that’s already a 64 percent increase over 2011 (25).

“I’d say right now that Gronkowski would rather get hit in the head,” Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said. “Officials are going to err on the side of caution. That’s fine. But the other alternative is you take someone’s knees out.”

Smith called the decision Ward had to make on that tackle “kind of a no-win situation.” The rules say don’t hit high, but an unwritten rule among players is to avoid direct attacks on the knees.

“People say, ‘Oh, you can hit him in the middle,’ ” Smith said. “But it’s kind of hard to control when you’re trying to get the guy on the ground.”

Smith said he finally relented and worked on lowering his target area after a couple of fines and penalties last season.

“And there were a couple of times where I hit guys not even at the knees, but the hip area, and they got up saying, ‘Man, why do you have to hit me low?’ ” Smith said. “And it’s like, ‘I hit you where they told me to. I don’t know where else to hit you.’ ”

Smith said he understands the safety aspect as the league attempts to prevent head injuries and the potential long-term problems that come with them. But he also wishes he could play the position like Ronnie Lott and Steve Atwater, two of his hard-hitting idols from a different era.

“I just like old-school football,” Smith said. “They can make all these rules, but a coach once told me, ‘It’s a violent game played by violent individuals.’ Injuries are going to happen. It’s part of the game.”

Three observations …

• Players routinely complain about playing on Thursdays. And, frankly, they make a good point that the league is more concerned about making money than player safety when it comes to Thursday games. But with all this complaining, you’d think the home team would be dominating on Thursdays. Not exactly. The Chargers’ upset in Denver this week gave the road teams a 7-10 record this season.

• Chargers receiver Keenan Allen caught only two balls Thursday night, but he no doubt shot to the front of the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year race because both catches were highlight-reel touchdowns.

Allen leads all rookie receivers with seven touchdowns.

• Robert Griffin III will be fine once again when he’s paired with a coach who isn’t at a point in his career where he’s just plain sick and tired of coaching football and dealing with the media.

Two predictions …

• Talk about messing up your draft status. Once 0-8, the Jacksonville Jaguars are about to beat the Buffalo Bills for their fourth consecutive victory and fifth in six games.

• New England will win at Miami because, well, the Patriots are the only team that consistently does what it’s supposed to do. At least in the regular season.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Seattle
Portland 0 Postponed
Brooklyn 0
Sacramento 0 Postponed
New York 0
Philadelphia 74 FINAL
New Orleans 99
Minnesota 84 FINAL
Oklahoma City 92
Orlando 94 FINAL
Memphis 103
Boston 99 FINAL
Utah 90
Denver 98 FINAL
LA Clippers 102
Army 68 FINAL
American Univ 66
Wright State 64 FINAL
Detroit 53
Syracuse 83 FINAL
North Carolina 93
Cleveland State 56 FINAL
Oakland 59
Delaware State 54 FINAL
NC Central 55
High Point 63 FINAL
Presbyterian 54
Howard 45 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 42
Coppin State 84 FINAL
NC A&T 71
Nicholls 51 FINAL
Northwestern St 80
Hampton 56 FINAL
SC State 65
Gardner-Webb 59 FINAL
Campbell 78
MD-Eastern Shore 72 FINAL
Florida A&M 65
Stephen F Austin 82 FINAL
Lamar 65
Central Arkansas 67 FINAL
New Orleans 87
Norfolk State 70 FINAL
Savannah State 54
TX A&M-CC 70 FINAL
SE Louisiana 61
Sam Houston St 80 FINAL
Abilene Christian 63
McNeese State 84 FINAL
Incarnate Word 86
Milwaukee 48 FINAL
Valparaiso 73
Alcorn State 66 FINAL
Alabama A&M 78
Southern U 59 FINAL
Alabama State 63
Prairie View 68 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 105
Texas 86 FINAL
Iowa State 89
Texas Southern 85 FINAL
Miss Valley St 84
Long Island 85 FINAL
Bryant 88
Central Conn St 51 FINAL
St Francis-NY 49
Fairleigh Dickinson 0 Postponed
Sacred Heart 0
St Francis-PA 87 FINAL
Wagner 74
Delaware State 59 FINAL
NC Central 66
Howard 53 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 61
Coppin State 49 FINAL
NC A&T 67
Hampton 88 FINAL
SC State 53
Norfolk State 54 FINAL
Savannah State 56
MD-Eastern Shore 54 FINAL
Florida A&M 64
Angelo State 55 FINAL
Abilene Christian 70
Samford 32 FINAL
(25) Chattanooga 49
Prairie View 83 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 66
Alcorn State 58 FINAL
Alabama A&M 55
Southern U 53 FINAL
Alabama State 49
Texas Southern 63 FINAL
Miss Valley St 52
(12) Texas A&M 61 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 79
Robert Morris 68 FINAL
Mount St Marys 44
East Tenn St 72 FINAL
Mercer 70
Wofford 56 FINAL
Furman 58
Morehead St 64 FINAL
Tenn Tech 54
Illinois 57 FINAL
Michigan 70
Quinnipiac 0 Postponed
Manhattan 0
Saint Peters 0 Postponed
Rider 0
(18) Miss State 59 FINAL
Auburn 48
(15) Nebraska 72 FINAL
(20) Iowa 78
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago NoonX13-9

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who will win the Super Bowl?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close