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Bernard Pollard Sounds Off On NFL Safety Rules

Posted Nov 21, 2012

Outspoken and hard-hitting safety Bernard Pollard still isn’t happy about Ed Reed’s fine.

Ed Reed’s no longer suspended for Sunday’s game, but fellow safety Bernard Pollard is still fuming.

The hard-hitting and outspoken Pollard sounded off on the NFL’s policies and fines regarding illegal hits to a group of reporters Wednesday.

Reed was still fined $50,000 for a series of three hits to the head and neck area dating back to 2010.

Pollard’s main point in a lengthy discussion was that defensive players shouldn’t be fined or suspended for hits that aren’t intentionally malicious. He’s also worried about such actions changing the game.

“Don’t call it defense if we can’t defend someone,” Pollard said. “When we react and make tackles, but they’re reacting and ducking their heads, you can’t blame us for that.”

Replays show that Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders turns and lowers his head after catching the ball in Sunday’s game. His head was still not facing forward when Reed lowered his shoulder to make the hit.

“We have a split second to make a tackle and we already used our split second,” Pollard said. “We’ve got to go. We are a missile that can’t redirect.”

Head Coach John Harbaugh said it’s more difficult now to teach tackling to his players.

He thinks the league is making changes for the right reasons, and he sees harder collisions between bigger and faster players now, but it’s difficult to strike a balance between safety and taking away from what defenders can do.

“We’re trying to do everything we can,” Harbaugh said in regards to teaching proper and safe tackling.

“But the problem is that it is really hard for these guys at full speed sometimes to execute. And when you slow it down and look at it tight there’s no leeway there, which is understandable, but physically very difficult to be perfect at high speed.”

Pollard said defensive players need to stand up against the NFL’s actions because they’re already at a disadvantage. San Diego Chargers linebacker Jarret Johnson, a former Raven, did that when talking to the Baltimore media Wednesday.

“I guess they’re trying to be black and white and say, ‘If you hit a guy in the head then it needs to be a penalty,’” Johnson said. “But if you look at Ed’s tackle, it’s a good tackle. This is a fast-paced game and if you make a good form tackle, sometimes heads are going to hit. I thought it was totally B.S.”

Pollard and fellow safety James Ihedigbo pointed to Steelers quarterback Byron Leftwich’s 31-yard touchdown run as a case in point about how rules regarding tackling are changing the game.

Pollard was running to the sideline to usher Leftwich out of bounds, but wanted to be particularly careful not to hit the quarterback and draw a penalty or possibly a fine. Leftwich instead stayed in bounds and broke through Pollard’s arm tackle on his way to the end zone.

“Now if a quarterback’s going to the sideline and I’ve got a chance, I swear to you I’m going to kill him,” Pollard said.

Pollard also believes rules aimed at moving the target lower could still result in injuries – just not to the head.

“The offense knows if it goes across the middle it’s safe. It can’t be like that,” Pollard said.

“We’re trying to not hurt people and hit them up top. Now you’re going to make us as defensive players take out knees. We’ve got to tackle knees. Now you’re talking about ending people’s careers, ending people’s seasons. With the quarterback, you can’t hit them low and you can’t hit them high. So where do you want us to hit them at? This is not the game of football anymore.”

Pollard’s gripe isn’t with officials throwing the flags. They’re just doing what they’re told, he says. It’s with the league office and in particular NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Reed’s suspension was originally imposed by NFL Vice President of Football Operation Merton Hanks, who was a safety for nine years in the NFL (1991 – 1999) mostly with San Francisco.

“You have former coaches and former players that have played in this league that have hit people helmet to helmet. All of a sudden now you want to stand firm on something and you know what the truth is?” Pollard asked. “You’re hiding behind a piece of paper.”

While Pollard said he understands and agrees with the NFL’s safety initiatives, he said he feels helpless in possibly altering Goodell’s course.

“The contract is set, signed and delivered,” Pollard said. “He knows and understands that he controls this. He has more power than is needed. … We as players signed up for this. He signed up for it too.”

So what would Pollard do if he were commissioner for a day?

He’d assign another official to every game to determine whether hits were malicious. He said he would still get rid of players trying to injure somebody, but that the intent of hits should be looked at.

“They’re replaying every touchdown, replaying every turnover. Replay these hits,” Pollard said. “The games are lasting longer than three hours anyways.”

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was happy to have Reed back, and at least saw some good to come out of the reversal of the suspension.

“It’s good to know that it’s not carved in stone, that they can treat every case differently,” Suggs said. “We all know what type of player Ed Reed is. There’s not one player in this league that would call him a dirty player.”

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