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
Dallas 6:00 PM
Orlando
Sacramento 6:00 PM
Indiana
Toronto 6:00 PM
Washington
Houston 6:30 PM
Detroit
Philadelphia 6:30 PM
Atlanta
Cleveland 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Oklahoma City 7:00 PM
Memphis
Portland 7:30 PM
Milwaukee
LA Clippers 8:00 PM
San Antonio
Charlotte 8:00 PM
Denver
Phoenix 9:30 PM
Golden State
Washington 0 FINAL(OT)
Montreal 1
NY Islanders 1 FINAL
Detroit 4
Arizona 1 3rd Prd
Ottawa 3
Los Angeles 6:00 PM
Boston
Florida 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Carolina 6:00 PM
NY Rangers
Toronto 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Dallas 6:00 PM
Winnipeg
Columbus 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Edmonton 9:00 PM
Calgary
Chicago 9:30 PM
San Jose
Boston College 49 FINAL
Clemson 64
Western Mich 63 FINAL
Eastern Mich 69
NC State 81 FINAL
Georgia Tech 80
Wisconsin 74 FINAL
Iowa 63
Stony Brook 48 FINAL
New Hampshire 63
Notre Dame 72 FINAL
Pittsburgh 76
Providence 66 FINAL
St Johns 75
Davidson 70 FINAL
Saint Josephs 75
Xavier 82 FINAL
Seton Hall 90
Tulane 37 FINAL
Temple 55
Auburn 63 FINAL
Tennessee 71
Texas Tech 58 FINAL
West Virginia 77
Arkansas 56 FINAL
Florida 57
Penn State 58 FINAL
Illinois 60
Lipscomb 73 FINAL
Stetson 75
South Florida 71 FINAL
Tulsa 78
Bradley 58 FINAL
Indiana State 64
UMass Lowell 69 FINAL
Binghamton 76
Green Bay 62 FINAL
Cleveland State 76
Georgetown 67 FINAL
Creighton 40
Coll of Charleston 68 FINAL
Delaware 71
Villanova 68 FINAL
DePaul 55
Vermont 65 FINAL
Hartford 46
TCU 66 FINAL
Iowa State 83
Kennesaw St 51 FINAL
Jacksonville 50
Kansas State 57 FINAL
Kansas 68
Boston Univ 86 FINAL
Lehigh 89
Illinois State 48 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 45
Albany 77 FINAL
Maine 59
Butler 72 FINAL
Marquette 68
LSU 67 FINAL
Miss State 73
Mount St Marys 77 FINAL
Sacred Heart 71
Richmond 64 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 55
Virginia Tech 70 FINAL
Wake Forest 73
IUPU-Ft Wayne 75 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 65
Arkansas State 43 FINAL
Georgia State 74
Loyola-Maryland 62 2nd Half 7:20
Army 48
Tenn Tech 53 FINAL
Belmont 71
Bethune-Cookman 36 2nd Half 15:17
Florida A&M 23
Valparaiso 60 2nd Half 5:47
Ill-Chicago 55
UAB 58 2nd Half 2:55
TX-San Antonio 50
Idaho State 60 2nd Half 4:37
North Dakota 69
Evansville 53 2nd Half 3:11
Drake 55
Rutgers 57 2nd Half 7:34
Indiana 54
Ball State 49 2nd Half 13:25
Miami-Ohio 40
Southern U 11 1st Half 5:33
Alcorn State 17
UNC-Wilmington 33 1st Half 1:28
Drexel 39
Coastal Carolina 21 1st Half 1:04
Gardner-Webb 27
Morgan State 5 1st Half 11:34
Howard 16
William & Mary 41 1st Half 1:45
James Madison 18
North Carolina 28 1st Half 4:58
Louisville 16
Coppin State 21 1st Half 12:02
MD-Eastern Shore 16
Ole Miss 37 1st Half 0:25
Missouri 23
Wichita State 23 1st Half 0:54
Northern Iowa 35
Loyola Marymount 27 2nd Half
Pacific 34
Winthrop 35 2nd Half
Radford 28
George Washington 15 1st Half 3:12
Rhode Island 23
Bryant 29 1st Half 0:47
Robert Morris 22
Long Island 31 1st Half 2:44
St Francis-NY 31
Fair-Dickinson 32 2nd Half
St Francis-PA 35
Massachusetts 28 1st Half 1:36
Saint Louis 25
Georgia 22 1st Half 1:04
South Carolina 33
Central Conn St 25 2nd Half
Wagner 43
SIU Edwardsville 12 1st Half 4:49
Eastern Ill 19
Ohio 11 1st Half 11:27
Central Mich 19
Eastern Ky 10 1st Half 13:36
Morehead State 11
Incarnate Word 15 1st Half 10:52
Nicholls 3
Campbell 8 1st Half 14:30
UNC-Asheville 5
Vanderbilt 5 1st Half 11:43
Texas A&M 16
South Alabama 4:00 PM
ULM
Western Carolina 4:00 PM
UNC Greensboro
Detroit 4:00 PM
Milwaukee
Idaho 4:05 PM
Eastern Wash
Marshall 4:30 PM
Louisiana Tech
Jackson State 4:30 PM
Miss Valley St
Houston Baptist 4:30 PM
Sam Houston St
Louisiana 4:30 PM
Texas State
Denver 4:30 PM
South Dakota St
Oral Roberts 4:30 PM
South Dakota
Texas 5:00 PM
Baylor
Citadel 5:00 PM
Chattanooga
Fresno State 5:00 PM
Colorado State
Yale 5:00 PM
Cornell
Ark-Pine Bluff 5:00 PM
Grambling St
Nebraska 5:00 PM
Minnesota
Hampton 5:00 PM
Norfolk State
Purdue 5:00 PM
Northwestern
Alabama A&M 5:00 PM
Prairie View
Dartmouth 5:00 PM
Princeton
Pepperdine 5:00 PM
St Marys-CA
NC A&T 5:00 PM
Savannah State
Delaware State 5:00 PM
SC State
Western Ky 5:00 PM
Southern Miss
Nevada 5:00 PM
Wyoming
Akron 6:00 PM
Bowling Green
Colgate 6:00 PM
Bucknell
FIU 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Brown 6:00 PM
Columbia
George Mason 6:00 PM
Duquesne
NC Central 6:00 PM
East Tenn St
Saint Peters 6:00 PM
Iona
Alabama 6:00 PM
Kentucky
Abilene Christian 6:00 PM
Lamar
Char Southern 6:00 PM
Liberty
Hawaii 6:00 PM
Long Beach State
New Orleans 6:00 PM
McNeese State
Lafayette 6:00 PM
Navy
Elon 6:00 PM
Northeastern
Fla Atlantic 6:00 PM
Old Dominion
Harvard 6:00 PM
Penn
La Salle 6:00 PM
St Bonaventure
Furman 6:00 PM
Samford
TX A&M-CC 6:00 PM
Stephen F Austin
Duke 6:00 PM
Virginia
Mercer 6:00 PM
Wofford
Northern Ky 6:00 PM
Fla Gulf Coast
USC Upstate 6:00 PM
North Florida
Longwood 6:00 PM
Presbyterian
Ark-Little Rock 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
SE Missouri St 7:00 PM
Austin Peay
CS-Northridge 7:00 PM
UC Riverside
Towson 7:00 PM
Hofstra
UT Martin 7:00 PM
Murray State
San Jose St 7:00 PM
New Mexico
Rice 7:00 PM
North Texas
Toledo 7:00 PM
Northern Ill
Oklahoma 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
San Francisco 7:00 PM
San Diego
Utah State 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Northwestern St 7:00 PM
SE Louisiana
UCF 7:00 PM
SMU
Southern Ill 7:05 PM
Missouri State
Troy 7:15 PM
Texas-Arlington
Jacksonville St 7:30 PM
Tennessee St
Alabama State 7:30 PM
Texas Southern
Stanford 7:30 PM
Washington St
Santa Clara 8:00 PM
BYU
TX-Pan American 8:00 PM
New Mexico St
Northern Ariz 8:00 PM
Southern Utah
Middle Tennessee 8:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Weber State 8:00 PM
Northern Colorado
Chicago State 8:00 PM
Grand Canyon
UC Santa Barbara 9:00 PM
UC Irvine
Memphis 9:00 PM
Gonzaga
Air Force 9:00 PM
UNLV
Cal Poly 9:00 PM
UC Davis
Seattle 9:00 PM
CS-Bakersfield
Montana State 9:05 PM
Portland State
Montana 9:05 PM
Sacramento St
Colorado 9:30 PM
UCLA
UMKC 9:30 PM
Utah Valley U
Mount St Marys 64 FINAL
Sacred Heart 71
Texas-El Paso 53 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 74
Arkansas State 61 FINAL
Georgia State 47
Bryant 84 FINAL
Robert Morris 87
Central Conn St 83 FINAL
Wagner 67
Fairleigh Dickinson 78 FINAL
St Francis-PA 60
Long Island 53 FINAL
St Francis-NY 62
Bethune-Cookman 70 FINAL
Florida A&M 57
Longwood 56 FINAL
Campbell 68
Charleston Southern 40 FINAL
Winthrop 77
Louisiana Tech 68 FINAL
Marshall 67
Ohio U 74 FINAL
Central Michigan 66
Western Mich 61 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 53
Coppin State 58 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 66
Incarnate Word 34 FINAL
Nicholls 67
Samford 46 FINAL
East Tenn St 48
Western Carolina 72 FINAL
Furman 84
Gardner-Webb 71 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 65
Liberty 58 FINAL
High Point 41
Presbyterian 46 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 59
Kent State 67 FINAL
Akron 74
Northern Ill 65 FINAL
Ball State 62
Houston 66 FINAL
Cincinnati 69
SIU-Edwardsville 65 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 48
Eastern Kentucky 58 FINAL
Morehead St 76
Holy Cross 67 FINAL
American Univ 61
Army 62 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 53
Niagara 53 FINAL
Manhattan 46
Lehigh 78 FINAL
Boston U 71
Navy 65 FINAL
Lafayette 60
Saint Josephs 57 FINAL
Davidson 52
Duquesne 56 FINAL
Fordham 46
George Washington 87 FINAL
George Mason 52
St Bonaventure 77 FINAL
Massachusetts 57
Milwaukee 64 FINAL
Youngstown St 87
Jacksonville 78 FINAL
Kennesaw St 64
North Florida 49 FINAL
USC Upstate 61
St Marys-CA 53 FINAL
Pepperdine 49
Nebraska Omaha 49 FINAL
IUPUI 68
Mercer 59 FINAL
(25) Chattanooga 71
South Florida 57 FINAL
Memphis 53
Buffalo 75 FINAL
Eastern Michigan 53
Saint Louis 72 FINAL
Dayton 87
Houston Baptist 53 2nd Half 8:00
Sam Houston St 51
No Dakota State 52 2nd Half 0:03
South Dakota St 82
Oral Roberts 58 2nd Half 3:35
South Dakota 87
Southern Miss 61 2nd Half 0:38
Western Ky 58
TX-San Antonio 54 2nd Half 0:57
UAB 73
East Carolina 65 2nd Half 0:34
Tulane 63
New Mexico St 64 2nd Half 9:25
TX-Pan American 57
Utah Valley U 58 2nd Half 0:17
UMKC 59
Jackson State 52 2nd Half 7:49
Miss Valley St 54
Louisiana 58 1st OT 3:45
Texas State 63
South Alabama 48 2nd Half 1:16
ULM 52
Cleveland State 66 2nd Half 0:36
Oakland 59
Grand Canyon 76 FINAL
Chicago State 51
UCLA 49 2nd Half 14:59
Oregon 35
Washington St 42 2nd Half 16:20
(12) Stanford 46
Kansas State 19 1st Half 3:38
Texas Tech 19
UNLV 28 1st Half 2:55
Air Force 38
UCF 29 2nd Half
Tulsa 29
UNC Greensboro 34 2nd Half
Wofford 34
Delaware State 31 2nd Half
SC State 34
San Diego State 33 2nd Half
Utah State 28
Sacramento St 40 1st Half 2:08
Montana 38
Hampton 36 1st Half 0:17
Norfolk State 33
NC A&T 26 2nd Half
Savannah State 25
Alabama A&M 24 1st Half 3:31
Prairie View 30
Toledo 21 1st Half 0:24
Bowling Green 24
Ark-Pine Bluff 0 1st Half 20:00
Grambling 0
Southern U 11 1st Half 7:29
Alcorn State 16
Marist 30 1st Half 0:27
Iona 30
Bucknell 24 2nd Half
Colgate 30
North Dakota 32 2nd Half
Idaho State 31
Ark-Little Rock 4 1st Half 13:39
Georgia Southern 8
BYU 4:00 PM
Santa Clara
Gonzaga 4:00 PM
Portland
Pacific 4:00 PM
Loyola Marymount
Colorado State 4:00 PM
Fresno State
New Mexico 4:00 PM
San Jose St
UC Davis 4:00 PM
UC Santa Barbara
San Diego 4:00 PM
San Francisco
New Orleans 4:00 PM
McNeese State
TX A&M-CC 4:00 PM
Stephen F Austin
Old Dominion 4:00 PM
Florida Atlantic
Tenn Tech 4:00 PM
Belmont
Eastern Washington 4:00 PM
Idaho
Stetson 4:00 PM
Lipscomb
Washington 4:30 PM
California
USC 4:30 PM
(7) Oregon State
IUPU-Ft Wayne 4:30 PM
Western Ill
Abilene Christian 4:30 PM
Lamar
Northwestern St 4:30 PM
SE Louisiana
SE Missouri St 4:30 PM
Austin Peay
Portland State 5:00 PM
Montana State
Columbia 5:00 PM
Brown
Northern Colorado 5:00 PM
Weber State
Charlotte 5:00 PM
FIU
(19) Princeton 5:00 PM
Dartmouth
Penn 5:00 PM
Harvard
UT Martin 5:00 PM
Murray State
Troy 5:00 PM
TX-Arlington
Morgan State 77 FINAL
Howard 64
Alabama State 5:30 PM
Texas Southern
Jacksonville St 5:30 PM
Tennessee St
Wyoming 6:00 PM
Nevada
Oklahoma St 6:00 PM
Iowa State
CS-Bakersfield 6:00 PM
Seattle
La Salle 6:00 PM
VA Commonwealth
Cal-Irvine 6:00 PM
Cal Poly
Fla Gulf Coast 6:00 PM
Northern Ky
Southern Utah 7:00 PM
Northern Ariz
Green Bay 7:00 PM
Illinois-Chicago
Cal State Fullerton 9:00 PM
Long Beach St
CS-Northridge 9:00 PM
Hawaii
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 wins the Super Bowl?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close