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Steelers safety Clark's frustration with NFL grows

| Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, 3:33 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers safety Ryan Clark talks during practice Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, at St. Vincent.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons stops Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles during the first quarter Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, at Heinz Field.

Can't hit high. Can't hit low. Steelers safety Ryan Clark is starting to wonder where defensive players can hit as the NFL weighs even more measures to protect players.

Ray Anderson, the NFL's operations chief, told the Associated Press that the league's competition committee would explore taking action if it finds that hits to the knees are becoming a problem.

Clark's reaction?

“I'm disgusted,” he said.

Currently, only hits to the head and neck of defenseless players are prohibited. But direct hits to the knees, such as ones that injured Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller and Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams during the preseason, drew rebukes from some players.

Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez was especially outspoken about what he called the “ridiculous” hit by Texans rookie D.J. Swearinger on Keller, who is out for the season with several torn ligaments.

That prompted Clark to say, “If an offensive player makes enough stink about something, they'll change it.”

“You can't protect everything. You want to protect the head, you've done that. Now you have to let us play,” Clark said. “Now if it's guys being hit low, that's just a part of it.”

Clark predicted there would be an increase in low hits as soon as the NFL began its campaign against concussion-inducing head shots. He was fined $40,000 two years ago for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Ravens tight end Ed Dickson, a week after he was fined $15,000 penalty for an out-of-bounds hit on Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

“If you start penalizing guys or fining guys a lot for hits up top, guys go to the other extreme,” Clark said. “Guys know there is no way possible I'm going to get fined if I go low. And I said it, it's going to be one or other. Guys are maybe going to hit up high and maybe risk a concussion or hurting a shoulder. And if you get hit low, the season is going to be over (with a knee injury).”

Eliminating shots down low would put defensive players, especially defensive backs, at a significant disadvantage, Clark said.

“If they decide to change rule, they might as well put flags (on players) and start playing flag football,” Clark said. “Because then you give a guy like myself, who's 200 pounds, a two-foot area to stop a guy who's 240 pounds, 250 running at full speed and that's going to be kind of hard to do.”

If the legislation continues, Clark said, pretty soon football won't be football.

“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,” Clark said. “They'll need to change the name of it and change the name of the league.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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