INDIANAPOLIS — Sometimes, it just doesn't seem fair.
A defensive player must avoid hitting an offensive player in the head, but what about when an offensive player chooses to dip his helmet to make contact with a defensive guy?
A coach instructs a defensive player to deliver legal hits, yet will still give him a minus grade for pulling back from contact to avoid a head shot that could draw a yellow flag.
Lorenzo Alexander thinks something needs to be done to at least attempt to level the playing field for those who, like him, are paid to make tackles. On Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine, the Buffalo Bills' veteran linebacker had a chance to share that perspective with members of the NFL Competition Committee.
Alexander was one of about a half-dozen players who spent about 90 minutes Wednesday with the league's rules-making body. The other players included Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Eric Winston, Arizona Cardinals defensive end Frostee Rucker, Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri and New York Giants long-snapper Zak DeOssie.
The thrust of the discussion was about player safety and what constitutes a catch, but Alexander said he and Davis made a point of addressing some of the inequities they see between offensive and defensive players when it comes to penalties or the impact of how they're enforced.
"You're trying to assess accountability to not only players, but coaches as well," Alexander said. "Because coaches oftentimes, even our guys are good about saying, 'I want a clean, legal hit.' But are they minus-ing you if you decide to pull off a guy because you don't want to hit him helmet-to-helmet? If you're going to grade me negatively because I slowed up — 'You're not finishing the play, Lorenzo, minus' — but I'm pulling off a guy because I think I don't have a clean shot to get, without hitting helmet to helmet, the next time I'm going to go clean him because I don't want to lose my job.
"So there is a balance there as far as messaging and acceptance from coaches who may have a little bit more of an old-school mentality — or just a football mentality in general from especially a defensive, aggressive spot — that you always want to err on the side of being aggressive versus passive. You walk that fine line of me getting $50,000 or $100,000 out of my pocket when the coaches or anybody else doesn't have any repercussions."
Alexander said Davis raised the point that too much is being asked of defensive players to avoid making contact that will draw penalties while not enough is being done to prevent offensive players from delivering punishing hits.
"It seems like it's just the defensive guys' accountability to get out of the way or not hit him in the head when you have running backs or receivers, especially bigger guys," Alexander said. "They catch the ball, they might try to shake and then they're ducking their head and dipping their shoulder, which I get. But am I supposed to get run over now? What am I supposed to do? Just tackle the guy high, run over and they score the touchdown?
"There needs to be a little bit more parity, balance when it's offensive or defensive guys."
Alexander mentioned that there's a trend of offensive linemen getting away with what should be hands-to-the-face penalties. According to the linebacker, the linemen are being taught to punch high to the upper middle of a defender's chest, just below his chin.
"It's like getting hit in the head; it's only three inches up," Alexander said. "And now you're in my face as far as a pass-rusher."
How much does Alexander think the opinions that he and other players express to the Competition Committee matter?
"I think they listen as long as it aligns with the agenda," he said. "I think they take our perspective, but I don't know if they have their minds made up about something that they're going to switch significantly. But if it's in line with what they're doing, I think it gives them more consensus of, 'Let's change this.' "