Tomlin supports tougher penalties on helmet hits

NEW YORK (AP) - Despite the Steelers' reputation for being one of the league's most physical and intimidating teams, Tomlin said Tuesday he favors whatever the NFL deems necessary...

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PITTSBURGH (AP) — Steelers coach Mike Tomlin favors the NFL’s stricter enforcement of helmet hits. But he still insists linebacker James Harrison’s violent hit on Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi was within the rules.

The NFL is reviewing whether Harrison’s concussion-causing hit on Massaquoi warrants a fine or suspension. The league said Tuesday it will immediately begin suspending players for dangerous and flagrant hits, particularly those involving helmets.

Harrison sidelined Browns receivers Massaquoi and Joshua Cribbs with concussions on separate hits about seven minutes apart in the second quarter of the Steelers’ 28-10 victory Sunday. Harrison lowered his head and slammed helmet-first into the left side of Cribbs’ helmet, but the NFL deemed the hit legal because Cribbs was a runner.

Despite the Steelers’ reputation for being one of the league’s most physical and intimidating teams, Tomlin said Tuesday he favors whatever the NFL deems necessary to make the game safer.

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“I’m all for player safety. I think it is the proper initiative that the NFL has,” he said. “I think we need to safeguard the men that play this game to the best of our abilities and make it as safe as we can. I’m a proponent of player safety and whatever rule or rule adjustments we need to make to make it safer.”

One way to eliminate some of the helmet hits, he said, is to further emphasize a lowering of the strike zone — the area where players are tackled.

“Helmet-to-helmet contact is going to occur from time to time in football,” Tomlin said. “Things happen fast, these are big, moving people. I think the issue is here that we coach a lowering of the target, to reduce the number of those opportunities and to talk about flagrant or egregious approaches.”

Tomlin didn’t speculate whether Harrison might be fined or suspended. He stood by his postgame comments Sunday, when he said that neither hit was worthy of punishment.

Still, Tomlin said he supports whatever punitive action the league takes against any player it deems as violating the stricter rules.

“I am a proponent of levying whatever kind of punishment the NFL office deems necessary for those that are repeat offenders or those that are flagrant, and those that are egregious hits,” he said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.