Browns' safety Ward upset over fine for hit
BEREA, Ohio (AP) - Browns safety T.J. Ward opened the letter from the NFL and quickly scanned it for one important detail: the price of his punishment.
Once he located that number, he moved on.
"I didn't want it to ruin the rest of my day,'' he said.
Ward was fined $25,000 for an illegal hit he delivered on Sunday against Dallas wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, a penalty the hard-hitting defensive back is appealing and one he insists was well within the league's rules on helmet-to-helmet contact. Ward said replays conclusively show he did not touch any part of Ogletree's head.
"I think it was completely legal,'' Ward said. "I aimed for his chest. I hit him in his chest. He was falling forward. No part of my helmet hit his helmet. No part of my shoulder pad hit his helmet. If it did hit at any part, it was probably the aftereffect or the end of the hit. I think it was just a blown call and a blown punishment.''
Ward, who was fined $15,000 in 2010 for a nasty hit on Cincinnati wide receiver Jordan Shipley, was called for unnecessary roughness for the shot on Ogletree. The 15-yard personal foul aided the Cowboys' drive that set up a game-tying field goal in the closing seconds of regulation. Dallas went on to win 23-20 in overtime.
Ogletree sustained a concussion and has been ruled out of Thursday's game against Washington. Browns cornerback Buster Skrine also suffered a concussion during the play when he collided with Ogletree just after Ward delivered his blow. Skrine did not practice and Browns coach Pat Shurmur said the second-year player "is going through the (concussion) process.''
Ward was adamant he did nothing wrong. He said the crackdown on hits to the head is making it tough for him - or any defensive player - to be aggressive.
"It's ridiculous,'' he said. "I could see if I came under him, like the Shipley hit. By the rules, I deserved that fine. I hit him under his helmet, under his face mask. This one, not at all. I hit him in his chest. Freeze frame, you can see the pictures and everything, it's in his chest. My head is completely to the side. It's almost like he's over my shoulder.''
Ward's fine came one day after Baltimore safety Ed Reed's one-game suspension for several helmet-to-helmet hits was reduced to a $50,000 fine.
Reed had been suspended one game without pay for his third violation in three seasons against defenseless players. On Sunday night, Reed drilled Pittsburgh wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
Ward was also fined for being a repeat offender, which he finds illogical.
"I could see if it was a repeat offense in the same year, that makes sense,'' he said. "But repeat offense from three years ago? C'mon, man.''
Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron defended Ward, who was flagged in a Nov. 4 game for striking Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in the head. He was not fined for that hit. Jauron said he won't instruct Ward to play any differently, but he said it is becoming increasingly difficult to coach players on what's acceptable.
"I think just keep doing what he's doing. I saw the replays multiple times and I didn't see any head-to-head contact on that play,'' Jauron said. "I don't know if anybody else did. I don't know what you tell him. They have to figure it out. I don't know what you tell the defensive player today.''
Ward believes Commissioner Roger Goodell and league officials are taking the correct steps in trying to minimize hits to the head in order to improve player safety.
However, he believes the rules changes have given offensive players an unfair advantage and that defenders are being unfairly judged on plays where split-second decisions are made.
"I think the quarterbacks are just as responsible as us,'' he said. "They throw the balls, they try to fit them into tight spots and we have to react. If you look at it, defensive players are fined way more than offensive players. We're put in the worst predicaments. We can't hit them. We can't grab them. We can't do anything. It's hard to play football and it's very hard to play defense.''
Ward intended to hit Ogletree low, knowing that any contact near the head could be penalized.
"I aimed at a certain spot and he continued to fall,'' he said. "He fell right into me. It was almost a protection of myself. I just turned my shoulder. I didn't really even explode into him. It's a bind. I could see if I was running from the middle of the field and he was running a slant or something and I just hit him underneath his chin, but that wasn't the case at all.''
Ward doesn't think he's a marked man, but conceded his reputation as a big hitter may influence calls. He said some officiating crews seem more inclined to call penalties for high hits. He watched Sunday's Baltimore-Pittsburgh game and felt there were similar shots to the one he laid on Ogletree that weren't whistled.
Ward said Goodell's push to minimize head hits is noble, but he doesn't think it's making much of a difference in an inherently violent sport.
"The funny thing is, it won't change it,'' he said. "Things are going to happen. The next thing is you're going to see guys with blown out knees because they're going to start to get hit low and before you know it, that's going to be illegal and we'll start getting fined for that. You can't hit quarterbacks below the knee. I think it's taking away from the game.''
NOTES: Browns CB Joe Haden returned to practice after missing last week's game with an oblique injury. Shurmur hopes to have Haden back for Sunday's game against the Steelers, who will start 37-year-old quarterback Charlie Batch. ... CB Dimitri Patterson did not practice. He had hoped to test an ankle injury that has sidelined him for five games. ... Undrafted special teamer Johnson Bademosi was picked to be the fourth captain for this week's game. Because of injuries, he took snaps at cornerback for the first time against the Cowboys.
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