NFL sends second hit memo to teams
WASHINGTON -- The NFL sent head coaches memos before this week's games listing their players who were called for two or more unnecessary roughness penalties since 2008 -- yet another step in the league's effort to cut down on illegal hits.
NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson sent each coach the names of only his own players who have multiple infractions, league spokesman Greg Aiello said Sunday.
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Anderson is a member of the league's competition committee and one of its loudest voices calling for improving player safety.
The lists were sent Friday.
"The purpose was to provide an opportunity for the coach to give extra caution to those players to abide by the safety rules," Aiello wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "It was part of our effort to give fair notice to help players stay within the rules."
Aiello would not give the total number of players identified in the memos.
After a series of illegal hits last weekend, the NFL imposed larger-than-usual fines on three players: Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison was docked $75,000, while New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather and Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson lost $50,000 each.
No players were penalized for illegal hits to the head over the 13 games on Sunday, giving the league every reason to believe its message got through.
"I've seen a change in players' behavior in one week," NFL officiating chief Carl Johnson was quoted as telling NBC on "Football Night in America."
In the past, players were either fined or ejected for illegal hits. But the NFL is ramping up the punishment, saying it will make sure there is stricter enforcement of rules that have been in place. The league also warned that, starting with this Sunday's games, violent conduct will be cause for suspension.
Harrison played along, returning to the field after a tumultuous week in which he received a fine from the NFL and briefly threatened to retire. He called it business as usual -- well, except for one particular play, when he saw Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown coming across the middle.
"I had a chance to put my head in there, and it looked like he was crouching down," Harrison said. "I didn't want to get a helmet-to-helmet [hit]. I didn't put my face in there, and he went down, and luckily he didn't scamper for another 10 or 15 yards."
Commissioner Roger Goodell sent teams a memo on Wednesday "to emphasize the importance of teaching safe and controlled techniques" related to "contact to the head and neck." A video was sent to the 32 teams explaining what hits are considered legal and illegal.
In Cleveland's victory over Super Bowl champion New Orleans, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita thought he saw instances of defenders going low when they might have had clean shots higher up.
"Now you've got guys whose ankles are going to be taken out and knees are going to get blown up," Fujita said, "so it's kind of a Catch 22 if you ask me."
The NFL also will consider after this season a policy in which a player who knocks out an opponent for a certain number of games could be suspended for a corresponding number of games, according to an NFL official.
DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, issued a statement regarding the crackdown on Saturday that focused on the league's position on health care if there is a lockout next season, worker's compensation and disabled veterans.
"The issue of player safety is bigger than just hits on Sunday," Smith said in the statement. "Players understand the difference between aggressive, split-second actions and dangerous play. In addition to this sudden new emphasis on player safety, players call on the NFL to fulfill its obligation to health care in a lockout, end nasty litigation against nearly 300 players' workers compensation cases and stop saying 'no' to the disability benefits of NFL legends.
"While there are a range of punishments available as part of the on-field discipline system, the NFLPA will ensure the NFL strictly adhere to the existing rules and disciplinary process. We will also enforce the return to play guidelines and safety protocols and practices that occur out of the public eye.
"Our mission is to remain aggressive on player safety both on and off the field."
However, as if to illustrate the point that head injuries can't simply be willed out of a violent sport, there were some more Sunday.
In Atlanta, Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud collided helmet-to-helmet with Bengals running back Cedric Benson, and DeCoud needed help getting off the field after that one. No penalty was called, and Falcons coach Mike Smith said DeCoud was not allowed back in the game.
Information from ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter and The Associated Press was used in this report.