October 21, 2010

Dawgs say hard hits part of the game

If you've turned on ESPN, the NFL Network or any other sports show on television today, no doubt you're quite familiar with all the news regarding the controversy over helmet-to-helmet hits in professional football.

Members of the Georgia Bulldogs were certainly paying attention.

Sunday, one of their own, former wideout Mohamed Massaquoi was at the wrong end of a collision with Pittsburgh's James Harrison, one of two hits the league deemed inappropriate, which in this instance resulted in a $75,000 fine for the Steelers' linebacker.

Then there was Philadelphia's DeShaun Jackson, who was levied by Atlanta Falcons' cornerback Dunta Robinson, resulting in concussions for both players. That hit resulted in a $50,000 fine for Robinson, which was also the number handed out to New England safety Brandon Meriweather for his hit on Baltimore tight end Todd Heap.

Obviously, college players can't be fined for flagrant or helmet-to-helmet hits, but earlier this week several Bulldogs weren't shy about voicing their opinion about the controversy, which many claim could hurt the sport in the long run.

Former quarterback and current wide receiver Logan Gray certainly feels a certain way.

"Obviously what you've got to realize is that's part of the game. This is a contact sport and whether you're a receiver or tight end, someone who is going to be catching the ball, there are going to be times when you're liable to have someone come into contact and someone is going to put their helmet in your chest or your head," Gray said. "You don't want to see guys get hurt like some of those guys on Sunday, some of those hits were pretty vicious, but that's part of the game and people have been playing football for a long time.

"Obviously, some of the helmet-to-helmet contact, there's penalties against that and officials are trying to minimize it. But this is not a sport for everybody. There's a reason why it's football and there's a reason some people play ping-pong or whatever else it might be. You've got to be tough to play."

Both A.J. Green and Israel Troupe were watching the Cleveland-Pittsburgh game when Massaquoi, their former teammate ducked his head and took his shot from Harrison.

"The first thing I thought was 'Mo, please get up.' But like Harrison said, it's all part of the game," Troupe said. "That hit, and that hit in the Falcons' game, those were legal hits."

In Massaquoi's case, Troupe pointed out that his buddy ducked his head, causing the collision to be worse than it might ordinarily have been.

In Robinson's case, Troupe said it wasn't even close.

"He was leading with his shoulder the entire way," Troupe said. "Here's the thing, you can't take a man's physical play out of the game. He looks to hurt you but he does not look to injure you. You can't take hitting out. Helmet-to-helmet is going to happen. The best thing you can do is make sure it's not intentional."

Safety Jakar Hamilton, whose brother is Carolina Panthers running back Michael Goodson, said he understands the concern over helmet-to-helmet hits. But in the split second plays like that can happen in the NFL, it's not always easy to control what occurs.

"I try to keep my head up, trying to hit, but sometimes I'm trying to lay the boom and that's a part of football, being tough," Hamilton said. "I feel for the person who is helpless and can't see, but hey, that's what they're getting paid for, to hit people, to demolish them. It's what you're taught to do your whole life, to hit, hurt them and part of being a receiver is to catch the ball."

Head coach Mark Richt said Bulldog defenders are taught to tackle a particular way.

However, he also understands that due to the speed of the game, sometimes unfortunate things happen.

"We're not trying to strike helmet to helmet, we're trying to keep our eyes up and basically put our face and chest on whomever we're trying to tackle - club and rip and grip, then run your feet and try to get him to the ground," Richt said. "But when you're out there in space, playing fast it can be difficult. I remember the hit that Reshad (Jones) had last year he got called for a helmet-to-helmet and he was really putting his face in the man's chest but as he approached the receiver put his head down to protect himself and he was called for helmet-to-helmet."

Hamilton has no doubt that the attention being paid to helmet-to-helmet contact will trickle down to the collegiate level as well.

"Oh yeah, it's probably going to be a big deal now," he said. "Growing up, you're taught to hit at the earlobe but for us not to hit helmet-to-helmet, that's not going to work. I'm going to have to aim for the shoulder plate but when you do that there's a possibility of getting run over when you've got a 230-pound running back coming at you full speed."

Hamilton dismissed a suggestion he heard on the NFL Network that said defensive backs like himself should simply take a ball carrier out by his legs.

"That's just asking for a concussion," Hamilton said. "So now, I just aim for the thighs."

Of course, there is one way to alleviate some of the hits witnessed last weekend.

"You just hope that your quarterback doesn't leave you out to dry. But it is part of the game," Troupe said. "Sometimes we have shots on people that we take. It's give and give, although you hope that nobody gets hurt."

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