NFL to study hits to knees

Updated: August 27, 2013, 3:37 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

The NFL will keep a close eye on hits to the knees of defenseless players this season, with the possibility of extending the rules protecting such players.

If the league's competition committee finds enough evidence this season that hits to the knees are "becoming a problem," it could take action, chief of football operations Ray Anderson told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The committee could make a recommendation to the owners next March to prohibit direct hits to the knees of defenseless players. The owners would then vote on such a change.

"We are always looking at plays that may elevate themselves and we do include in that category hits on defenseless players," Anderson said. "And certainly the hits to knees of players who have not had the opportunity to protect themselves or are not looking in the direction of where the hit comes from -- we have had a couple hits whereby a player was hit below [or at] the knees."

Outspoken Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark didn't hesitate to tee off on the league's plan to monitor low hits on defenseless players.

"I'm so disgusted with the NFL right now about those situations but if an offensive player makes enough stink about something they'll change it," Clark said Tuesday. "If they decide to change this rule they might as well put flags [on players] because then you give a guy like myself, who's 200 pounds, a two-foot area to stop a guy who's 240, 250 running at full speed, and that's going to be kind of hard to do."

Clark said tackling low is the one way that defensive backs know they can get a player on the ground without getting fined. Taking those kinds of hits out of the game, Clark said, would put defensive backs at a disadvantage and may even compromise their safety. 

Currently, hits to the head and neck of defenseless players are banned. But two direct hits to the knee in preseason games that injured Miami tight end Dustin Keller (by Texans rookie D.J. Swearinger) and Minnesota defensive tackle Kevin Williams (on a low block by 49ers guard Joe Looney) have drawn complaints from some players.

[+] EnlargeKeller
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsHouston rookie D.J. Swearinger's tackle left Miami tight end Dustin Keller with three torn knee ligaments and a dislocated kneecap.

Keller is out for the season with several torn ligaments. Williams has a hyperextended knee.

Anderson said the league will monitor plays during the season, study the data when the competition committee begins meeting after the season and see whether such hits to the knees are an "aberration or becoming a problem."

"This issue has not directly come up," Anderson added. "But when we have had discussions when making the head and neck area completely off-limits to players, there was some concern players might lower their targets and might include knees and below. We will look at that going forward."

Clark, the Steelers' union player representative, said he is all for player safety. But, he added, too many restrictions will take away the essence of the sport.

"If every time someone gets hurt we decide we're going to take that play out of football, it's going to be a different game and they need to change the name of it and change the name of the league," Clark said.

"I do believe they're trying to do the best that they can to keep players healthy, but you can't protect everything. Obviously you want to protect the head, and you've done that. Now you have to let us play."

ESPN.com Steelers reporter Scott Brown and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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