The fractured jaw and neck injury suffered by Cincinnati Bengals punter Kevin Huber on a block from Pittsburgh Steelers rookie linebacker Terence Garvin (Loyola Blakefield) has brought up some debate on how much punters should be protected.
In the case of Huber, who was placed on injured reserve and had to have surgery to wire his jaw, the NFL determined that a penalty should have been called and Garvin was fined $25,000.
NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino weighed in earlier this week, saying punters and kickers are regarded as defenseless players even if they're trying to make the tackle.
“Huber, he’s a punter, and the key is he’s defenseless through the down,” Blandino said. “So even though he’s pursuing the play, he still gets defenseless-player protection. You can’t hit him in the head or neck, and you can’t use the crown or forehead parts of the helmet to the body.”
Although a few punters around the league have said this week that they would prefer to be treated like any other football player, Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg agrees with the way the rulebook is constructed.
“I understand the protection is built in for the punters, and I agree with it, because there are situations that have happened in the past where a punter wasn’t involved in the play and became a target," Rosburg said. "So, I think the rules that are in place are good rules. The situation that happened is certainly unfortunate, and I think Kevin Huber will probably be the first one to say, I don’t know what he said, but just knowing Kevin and the kind of man he is, I would guess that he said something to the effect that, ‘I’m trying to make a tackle.’ And all the punters are like that. Our punters in this league are really good athletes.
"They’re not, as some have described, ‘Just kickers.’ They’re not. They’re really good athletes. They’re extraordinary athletes, and when they punt a ball, they look at it as their responsibility, if it gets to them, to make a tackle. We have a young man [Sam Koch] like that. But the rules are in place for a reason, and I think that going forward, we’ll all appreciate a situation like that, where the punters need to be protected, but at the same time, they don’t need special treatment – if that makes sense. The degree to which they are protected is correct in my view.”