TAMPA — Barrett Ruud says there's only one thing worse than the prospect of being suspended by the NFL for a violent hit: losing your job for missing tackles.
That's essentially the fine line players such as Ruud believe they must walk as the league intensifies its crackdown on blows to the head.
The emphasis on increased discipline came Tuesday, when the league fined Steelers linebacker James Harrison, Falcons defensive back Dunta Robinson and Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather a combined $175,000 for hits during Sunday's games.
"I think it's too harsh," Ruud said. "I don't understand what else guys can do. I think Dunta Robinson made a play for his team, and he got fined for it. I do understand the spearing with your helmet and leading with the crown of your helmet. Maybe that needs to be enforced harder. But the issue is when you get a face up tackle. That's how you've been coached your whole life. I think guys like Dunta and James Harrison are doing what they're paid to do, and they got fined for it.
"Where the issue comes in is if you start adjusting and missing tackles, you may not have a job as opposed to a suspension."
Players throughout the league have reacted to the possibility of suspensions for first-time offenders by saying such collisions are unintentional and often unavoidable. Punishment has been seen as an attempt to alter aggressiveness, and players have been slow to embrace the new mandate.
"If I want to put a blow on a guy, I'm trying to get that ball out by delivering as hard of a hit as I can," Bucs safety Sabby Piscitelli said. "I think that's something you can't take away from the game. That's what all the great safeties, like John Lynch, wanted to do. They weren't trying to hurt anybody permanently. They were just trying to make sure they hit somebody so hard the ball would come out."
Lynch, a Buc from 1993 to 2004, told the Denver Post: "I think we genuinely have a commissioner (Roger Goodell) who cares about player safety. I think before maybe they paid lip service to it, maybe they were worried about the PR of it. (Now) they're dead set on changing some things."
Violent hits on Sunday and Monday sent several players either to the bench or training room and strengthened the league's resolve to enforce rules that prohibit contact of defenseless players to the head or neck area with the helmet, forearm or shoulder.
Meriweather was fined $50,000 for striking Ravens tight end Todd Heap with a helmet-to-helmet shot. Robinson was levied the same amount for striking Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson near the neck area, resulting in both leaving with a concussion.
Harrison was docked $75,000 as a repeat offender for his hit on Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi. He also had a helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked receiver Josh Cribbs out of the game with a concussion but was not fined because it was deemed legal.
Many players have a problem with Robinson being punished.
"It was him sacrificing his body for his team," Ruud said. "I don't think he was being blatant with that. He was trying to make a play for his team, and he did that."
But many players, particularly receivers, agree that fines are sometimes not enough.
"We've got (defensive players) who will tell us, 'Hey, you go watch us on film. I hit people, and I have an account for fines. I don't care about game fines,' " Bucs receiver Micheal Spurlock said. "They say it during the game. They don't care.
"I think one thing they're trying to look at is not so much as the big hit, but launching head to head. You get hit in the chest, there's a lot more padding. Yes, it's going to hurt. This week was crazy. This week, you're looking and it's like, 'Wow!' One player knocked two guys out in one game. That's unheard of. (Harrison) was on a mission."
But at the same time, Spurlock said players know what they signed up for. That's why they spend so much time in the offseason preparing their bodies for punishment.
"I have my mom, my wife and I have kids. And no, (my wife) doesn't like it," Spurlock said. "You put the TV on Sunday, and DeSean is laying on the ground. Her issue is, 'That could be you.' We know what we're going into when we sign on the dotted line.
"(Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin) is a good friend of mine, and he got hit (in 2008). He had his mouth sewn up and was sucking food through a straw. He came back and played like, 'It happens.' You don't think a guy is going out to do that. It just happens in the game."
Wednesday, Goodell sent a memo to all 32 teams saying the league will hold coaches responsible for their players' failure to comply with the rules.
Bucs coach Raheem Morris said he addressed the matter with his team but said he didn't want players being overly concerned with about it.
"There's a line between violent, and there's a line between fair," Morris said. "We're going to play violently fair. We're going to be borderline illegal are the words I always use."