When it comes to the treatment and prevention of concussions, the NFL faces a bunch of issues. We have seen many new protocols and sideline medical treatment improve over these last few years. But, very little is known about head trauma. Concussions also do not affect everyone the same way. Needless to say, in an effort to avoid injury and litigation, the NFL has looked at ways to modify the game to make it safer.
On the football field, there is still a generation gap. That is, a lot of older players and coaches in the league played through concussions. Times have changed. Even today, players do not want to get shut down for the season or get labeled as the guy who gets concussed.
49ers rookie Eric Reid stated his first ever concussion was suffered in the NFL. This first concussion was sustained eight weeks ago against the Seattle Seahawks, when he attempted to tackle Sidney Rice. Replays of the hit show Reid could have led with the helmet and would have likely been flagged for hitting Rice with his helmet while defenseless. Instead, Reid turned his head and attempted to hit Rice with his shoulder. Reid took the brunt of the hit to the base of his neck and/or side of his head and he was concussed.
Reid suffered his second concussion of the season in the loss against the Carolina Panthers. The collision with Panthers fullback, Mike Tolbert, caused Reid to lie motionless for several minutes. Reid went down hard and he did not return to the game. Again, the replay showed Reid turned his head to engage a "clean" hit. However, depending on the angle or the movement of the ball carrier, the base of his neck and/or side of the head is exposed to carrier's crown of the helmet. Indeed, Tolbert tucked his head to brace for the collision and broadsided the Reid's head. Therefore, in some situations, either the carrier is vulnerable or the defender is vulnerable. There can be no winner in these situations.
With the spread offense occupying a lot of the college game, college defenses need safeties who are versatile. Reid and other safeties entering the NFL can cover and provide matchup advantages, but they are smaller than their predecessors. They are faster, but less sturdy. They have problems against teams that still play power football in the NFL. They have problems against bigger players, especially against bigger backs who strongly run the ball.
I am of the opinion players (like Reid) are better served diving at the midsection of ball-carriers bigger than them. And, unfortunately, in some situations, they should aim for the legs of the ball-carrier. Leaner safeties and defensive backs can square up against players who are their size.
It served as a bit of relief to me when Reid stated he will adjust his style of tackling. Remember, Reid's job is to prevent the ball from being caught. And if the catch is made, it's his job to make the tackle and hopefully force the ball loose. As long as a defender is not hitting an unprotected player in an illegal or reckless fashion, leaner safeties like Reid need to tackle bigger guys lower.
Sure, there is an advantage to drafting an undersized safety, who weighs 210 lbs. He can run and cover. But, when you face an offense that runs the ball, you're going to see injuries to that versatile safety.
In any event, I do not believe safety can be guaranteed by a rule book. The NFL commissioner can send out all the memos he wants, but the fact is -- legislating safety doesn't work. In both the tackles where Reid suffered concussions, he turned his head to avoid a helmet hit on a defenseless player. In turn, he became the defenseless one.
Everyone would like to find ways to modify the game to make it safer, but nobody wants to radically change the game of football. These guys have a job to do. And honestly, they have to make the tackle. By punishing players for doing their job, some of these athletes will become vulnerable to injury or it will create indecision on the field. Football is a fast game and indecision gets people hurt. Reid has to protect himself out there and if that means tackling lower or getting a penalty, so be it.