BEREA - T.J. Ward is fighting mad, and it's not because the Pittsburgh Steelers are next on the schedule.
The Browns strong safety is upset because of the $25,000 fine levied against him by the NFL for what the league considered an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit on Dallas Cowboys receiver Kevin Ogletree. The fine is usually $15,000, but Ward was hit harder because he's a repeat offender from a hit he put on former Cincinnati Bengals receiver Jordan Shipley two years ago.
"It's ridiculous," Ward said after Wednesday's practice. "The Shipley hit, by the rules, I deserved that one. I hit him under his helmet; under his facemask. This one, not at all. I hit him in the chest.
"Freeze-frame, you can see the pictures. I'm in his chest. My head is completely to the side. It's almost like he's over my shoulder. So I'm going to appeal it."
Ward is among a group of defenders that is questioning how to walk the fine line between aggressiveness and dangerous play. His hit on Ogletree came as the receiver spun around and reached out for a pass. Replays showed Ward dipping his right shoulder and delivering a hit in the chest area with the shoulder and right forearm. There didn't appear to be intentional helmet-to-helmet contact.
The fine now leaves Ward wondering how to defend a defense-less receiver. His apprehension will be further complicated when a receiver lowers his head in the expectation of being hit in the sternum, which means an official could interpret a helmet-to-helmet hit as being initiated by the offensive player.
"I aim low," Ward said. "It's really not my fault that he was falling as I was to hit him. He continued to fall, and he fell right into me. It was almost protection of myself. I turned my shoulder. I really didn't explode into him.
"I can see if I was running from the middle of the field and he was running a slant and I hit him under the chin, but that wasn't the case at all."
Coaches are also caught in a dilemma. They teach aggressive tactics that can often intimidate an opposing player, but they have to constantly remind defenders to avoid going off the edge.
"I think just keep doing what he's doing," Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. "I saw the replays multiple times, and I didn't see any head-to-head contact on that play. I don't know what you tell him. They have to figure it out.
"All we ever tell our defense is never intentionally hit another player in the head or neck, or don't hit a quarterback in the knees intentionally in the pocket. Otherwise, there's no way you can make an adjustment in a split second when the offensive player ducks his head or dips his shoulder or turns or twists, or the quarterback throws the ball into tough spots. Maybe they should stop the quarterback from throwing the ball into those tough spots and put some of the onus on the offense."
Ward believes that the rules favor the offense.
"I just think they need to make it fair for both sides," Ward said.
The NFL is becoming Commissioner Roger Goodell's version of how the game should be played in the name of player safety. The only recourse left to defenders might be aim lower, which could cause another set of problems.
"The funny thing is it (rules changes) won't change it," Ward 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 getting hit low.
"Before you know it, that's going to be illegal. You can't hit the quarterbacks below the knee. It's taking away from the game. I can understand aiming under the chin area or trying to take someone's helmet off, but if I hit you in the chest and your facemask moves"
In Ward's case, his bank account balance drops $25,000.