Church: Rules put safeties in tough spot

IRVING, Texas – As a big-hitting safety, Barry Church can empathize with Texans rookie D.J. Swearinger.

Swearinger, a second-round pick out of South Carolina, has become somewhat infamous because of a controversial hit that wrecked Dustin Keller’s knee, putting the Dolphins tight end out for the season. Swearinger’s explanation was that safeties have no choice but to aim low when receivers come across the middle because of NFL rules that strictly penalize shots to the head.

“It’s definitely a tough situation that they put us in,” Church said. “If you hit up high, you’re getting fined about $20,000. Nobody wants to lose that. If you hit too low, you’re jeopardizing somebody getting injured, so you’ve got to aim between the chest and the knee.

“But that’s hard. When you’re coming flying 100 miles per hour and they’re ducking their head as well, you don’t want to hit helmet to helmet with them, so you try to go even lower and you risk the injury. At the end of the day, it’s part of the game. If you’re playing inside the rules and you can’t hit high and you’re going low, I see no problem with it.”

The worst thing a safety can do is approach such collisions with hesitation. As Church said, that’s a good way to miss a tackle and get cussed out by your coaches.

Church, like former Cowboys greats such as Cliff Harris and Darren Woodson, takes great pride in punishing receivers who come across the middle. That intimidation factor is a critical element of playing the position, particularly for a safety like Church who wasn’t gifted with great speed.

“You’ve just got to shoot your gun and hope injury doesn’t get involved with it,” Church said. “Once you get a big hit on them, they’re looking. They get alligator arms. When the ball goes up in the air, they short-arm it because they don’t want to get it.

“Making them feel your presence around the middle is huge. It’s huge.”

It’s become a lot harder to do legally with today’s NFL rules.