As a senior in college, Houston Texans rookie D.J. Swearinger was no stranger to penalties. One recurring one for him was the helmet-to-helmet hit.
"My senior year I had like three helmet-to-helmet [penalties]," Swearinger said after Saturday night's game against the Dolphins. "I knew I had to change my style of play and start targeting low."
The consequence of Swearinger's changed style had a dramatic impact on Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller, who suffered a gruesome injury to his right knee when Swearinger went diving into it. It wasn't a play that looked dirty or intentional. It was just the result of a young player who has been conditioned to learn that going low means the smallest chance for harming his team with a penalty.
"With the rules in this era you’ve got to hit low," Swearinger said. "If I would have hit him high, I would have gotten a fine. So I think I made the smartest play. I’m sorry it happened and I pray he has a speedy recovery. ... Right now it’s just instinct. You see somebody come across the middle, you gotta go low. You’re going to cost your team 15 yards. You’ve got to play within the rules."
I've heard players say they would rather be hit in the head than have their knees taken out. On the other hand, protecting players' heads is important to their personal futures. I don't know what the answer is, but it's a situation that troubled Swearinger.
"I hope he does have a speedy recovery," Swearinger said. "It’s a game of football. You go through trials and tribulations. You’ve got to bounce back."