Is flag football ahead for NFL?

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Is flag football ahead for NFL?

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Making the game safer is making NFL players unsure what's a legal hit.

Players on both Super Bowl teams say they are confused about which hits are considered clean and which ones could lead to a fine. And it's not just the guys on defense who are wondering about the future of pro football.

``I think the rules will change a lot,'' San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis said Tuesday. ``There's already no helmet to helmet. Might be flag football, maybe.''

Baltimore Ravens safety Bernard Pollard, one of the league's hardest hitters, warned against trying to take collisions out of the game, as long as they are clean.

``You can't play this game and not expect it to be physical,'' said Pollard, who was fined $15,250 for a hit on Patriots receiver Wes Welker in the AFC championship game that Pollard believes was within the rules. ``There will be injuries in football. There's a car crash on every play.''

His 49ers counterpart, All-Pro Dashon Goldson, says defenders keep this in mind when they take the field:

``Do your best and then hope you don't get a letter (with a fine) in your locker on Wednesday.''

The NFL has sought to eliminate any hits to the head and neck area of defenseless players, particularly in the last three years. It also has banned players launching themselves helmet-first toward an opponent.

Yet, every week, players are fined for those actions, and there have been suspensions. Baltimore safety Ed Reed drew a one-game suspension this season that was lifted by the NFL on appeal and turned into a $50,000 fine for repeated illegal tackles. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Reed is not considered a vicious hitter.

Reed admits he can't be sure what's a true tackle these days and what crosses the line.

``A lot needs to be done with it. I don't think every fine is right,'' he said. ``You have to go back and really look at how guys play the game before you judge them, is what I'm trying to say.''

While still recognizing the importance of keeping games as safe as possible, defensive players have complained for years about the league's crackdown on hits. The 49ers and Ravens have two of the most physical defenses in the NFL, and they are proud of their violent nature.

``You can't play timid,'' Goldson said.

But even offensive players concede that defenses are at a disadvantage to the point of confusion.

Baltimore's Anquan Boldin, one of the more physical wide receivers in the league, doesn't feel sorry for anyone trying to tackle him. But he understands their plight as they close in.

`` All defensive players have to deal with that,'' Boldin said. ``It's tough on defensive players on those defenseless receiver calls because they come in and then the receiver drops his shoulder and they hit in the (head). And they get a penalty.

``So maybe they aren't sure and that's bad. This game is played too fast to worry about that, but they do have to worry.''

The NFL isn't going to back down on its emphasis on player safety, of course. It is facing at least 175 lawsuits as more than 3,800 players have sued the league over head injuries as the concussion issue has gained attention in recent years. The total number of plaintiffs is 6,000 when spouses, relatives and other representatives are included.

So the emphasis on eliminating what Ray Anderson, the league's main disciplinarian, calls ``egregious fouls'' will remain.

``We will just not let up,'' Anderson told The Associated Press on Tuesday. ``Get used to it, this will be our mantra: We have an obligation in being relentless in protecting our players.

``If they are in a defenseless position, hitting in the helmet is unnecessary. We said player health and safety is our No. 1 priority from the get-go and we have stuck to it with no apologies and no defensive attitude about it.''

Meantime, as offenses make scoreboards spin with record numbers of points, defenses try to figure out exactly what they are allowed to do.

``We are guys who are supposed to hit,'' said 49ers safety Donte Whitner, who is known for his bone-crunching tackles. ``We have to bring the element of fear when they come over the middle. We want receivers to think do you really want to keep coming over the middle time and time again.

``We need to make sure they don't want to, but we need to do it the right way. But we need to figure out the right way.''

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Three things to know about Ravens sixth-round pick Maurice Canady

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Three things to know about Ravens sixth-round pick Maurice Canady

This week, I will profile the Ravens’ 11 draft picks with three things you need to know about them. First up is their final pick, cornerback Maurice Canady from Virginia, who went in Round 6 (209).

Three things about Canady:

1. University of Virginia alumni should be particularly proud of himself.

Canady was the only Virginia player drafted this year, and he extended the school’s streak to 33 straight years of having at least one player selected. He continues the Ravens’ recent connection with Virginia players. Left tackle Eugene Monroe, defensive end Brent Urban, and former defensive end Chris Canty all attended Virginia. Canady is a Richmond, Virginia native, so he’s thrilled to stay on the East coast.

2.  Special teams could be Canady’s ticket to making the team.

The Ravens are looking for game-changing punt returners, and Canady returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown last season.

3. At 6-foot-1, Canady has the height and wingspan NFL teams prefer for cornerbacks.

Canady needs to work on his ball skills – he did not have an interception last season. However, his height is a plus matching up against bigger receivers. Canady had a strong week at the Senior Bowl against elite competition. If he stands out the same way during minicamps and training camp, Canady can carve out a place with the Ravens.

MORE RAVENS: CLIFTON BROWN SAYS DRAFT WAS SOLID, NOT SENSATIONAL

Ozzie Newsome, Ronnie Stanley deny Laremy Tunsil was Ravens' choice before video

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Ozzie Newsome, Ronnie Stanley deny Laremy Tunsil was Ravens' choice before video

OWINGS MILLS -- Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome denied the Ravens were going to pick left tackle Laremy Tunsil over Ronnie Stanley, until the gas mask video of Tunsil appeared on social media prior to the draft.

“No,” Newsome said Saturday night, when asked point blank if Tunsil would have been the Ravens’ choice, absent the video. “There’s a lot of speculation.”

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Ravens were going to pick Tunsil at No. 6, but picked Stanley instead after the video became public. Tunsil plummeted to No. 13 where the Dolphins took him, costing Tunsil millions of dollars.

Stanley took exception to Schefter’s report, refuting it on Twitter Saturday.

Believe who you want. But the careers of Stanley and Tunsil will now be compared even more, with both the Ravens and Dolphins hoping their rookie left tackle has the better NFL career.

After finishing 5-11 in 2015, and having already dealt with the domestic violence elevator video of former running back Ray Rice in 2014, can you blame the Ravens for passing on Tunsil? The controversy would have hovered over the Ravens and Tunsil -- baggage the Ravens don’t need, and can’t afford.

The Ravens did not shun Tunsil to reach for somebody who had no business being drafted No. 6. Some scouts had Stanley rated over Tunsil even before the video.

“He (Stanley) was right at the top row, with the top row of players,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh.

Newsome has admitted the Ravens tried to trade up to No. 4 to get defensive back Jalen Ramsey. But the Cowboys stayed put at No. 4 and took running back Ezekiel Elliott. After Ramsey went No. 5 to the Jaguars, the Ravens took Stanley at No. 6.

The fact Newsome was willing to disclose how badly he wanted Ramsey was revealing. Newsome is not worried about protecting Stanley’s feelings. There is already pressure on Stanley, and if he can’t handle that, he is going to struggle anyway.

Remember, Tunsil wasn’t the only top player the Ravens passed on at No. 6. Any of the next five players drafted would have addressed one of the Ravens’ primary needs - defensive end DeForest Buckner (No. 7, left tackle Jack Conklin (No. 8), outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (No. 9), and cornerbacks Eli Apple (No. 10) and Vernon Hargreaves (No. 11).

Stanley’s job is to prove Newsome made the right choice. But Tunsil’s video? That was one video too many for the Ravens.

Ravens draft grade: Solid, not sensational

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Ravens draft grade: Solid, not sensational

After a draft that featured a whopping 11 players, the Ravens should be better, and they are. We’re all guessing at this point, but I’d give them a B grade for this draft. Here are five takeaways Ravens’ which should explain why I like their draft, but can’t love it at this point:

1. The Ravens attacked their need for pass rushers

Unless the Ravens missed in the second-round (OLB Kamalei Correa), the third-round (DE Bronson Kaufusi), and the fifth-round (DE Matt Judon), their pass rush will improve. With those three, along with Elvis Dumervil and Za’Darius Smith, the Ravens can get after quarterbacks even if Terrell Suggs is not the same after his second Achilles injury.

2. Not taking a cornerback sooner could haunt the Ravens

They need corner help, but did not get any until drafting Tavon Young of Temple (fourth-round) and Maurice Canady (sixth round). If those two are slow to develop, the Ravens could find themselves scrambling to find cornerback help in August, especially if there is an injury or two at that position.

3. More playmakers should make the Ravens more explosive

The pass rushers on defense should create more turnovers.  And keep an eye on running back Kenneth Dixon (fourth round) and wide receiver Chris Moore (fourth round). Dixon is shifty, and he has good hands. Moore is a deep threat with superb ball skills. Both have the potential to be Sunday playmakers, not only in 2016, but beyond.

4. Taking either pass rusher Noah Spence or inside linebacker Miles Jack would have given this draft more star potential

After Laremy Tunsil’s gas mask video surfaced, I agreed with the Ravens’ decision to take left tackle Ronnie Stanley at No. 6. But the Ravens may regret passing on both Spence and Jack in the second round. After wide receiver Breshad Perriman missed all of last season with a knee injury, it’s hard to blame the Ravens steering clear of Jack due to his knee issues. But without Jack, the Ravens still need help at inside linebacker next to C. J. Mosley. As for Spence, maybe the Ravens’ background check told them it was too risky to take him, after he left Ohio St. for Eastern Kentucky due to drug issues (ecstasy). But Spence went No. 39 to the Buccaneers, and if he becomes a double-digit sack artist immediately, that will be tough for Ravens fans to watch.

5. Keenan Reynolds could be much more than just a popular sixth-round pick

Ravens’ officials had tears in their eyes talking about the reaction of former Navy star Reynolds, after he received the Ravens’ phone call. It’s a feel-good story, but it could be much more. Reynolds has all the traits to be a dynamic punt returner – toughness, vision, open-field quickness, and sound judgment. Reynolds usually makes the most of an opportunity. Don’t be surprised if he does it again.