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Pat McAfee: Punters 'understand there's an inherent risk' in tackling

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer

Kevin Huber's injury has sparked quite the controversy. (USATSI)

On Sunday night Bengals punter Kevin Huber was absolutely obliterated during a punt return and suffered a broken jaw and a cracked vertebrae. Dean Blandino of the NFL said a flag should've been thrown on the play for the block, bringing the league's decision to make punters defenseless squarely into the realm of public debate.

Colts punter Pat McAfee -- probably best known for being a) awesome on Twitter and b) unafraid of laying the wood on a return man -- said on the Dan Patrick Show Thursday that he disagrees with the league's decision to make punters defenseless.

"I've kicked off for five years in the NFL and I've punted for five years as well and I've never had a guy target me or go out of his way … I've had people … if I get in the way they're going to block me as well," McAfee said. "And I've taken a few hits. Guys who are much more athletic than I am and stronger have taken me out. But I've made a couple plays as well.

"We all understand there's an inherent risk when you step on the field in football."

McAfee also acknowledged that punters (and other players) "understand the NFL is trying to respect the game in the long run" and keep players safe. But he doesn't like the idea of having to leave the field after every punt, an idea that's been floated if punters are, indeed, considered defenseless.

"It would be a real shame. I enjoy making plays for my teammates. I think that's just a big part of it," McAfee said. "A big part of football is the team aspect. I think if you punt the ball -- I know that's part of your job -- if I hit a bad punt and if some guys don't make a tackle and I've got to make a tackle, that's my opportunity that I step up for my teammates."

McAfee also dislikes the idea of making punters defenseless because it propagates the stereotype that punters aren't real people.

"This defenseless thing. I don't really know what it means. We heard about the rule at the beginning of the season, didn't really know what happened," McAfee said. "But I think it kind of sets us back a little bit as a position. Back in the day there was always the stereotype -- and there still is obviously -- with a lot of big-time media people and kind of the general consensus that punters and kickers aren't really athletes or football players.

"And there's a few of us who are trying to debunk that theory and make plays and kind of gain the respect of our teammates by making tackles and doing whatever we have to do."

I tend to agree completely with McAfee -- if punters don't want to get crushed, they can stay out of the fray. It's also unfair to make football basically 11 against 10, which is what happens when a punter isn't really tackle-able. The problem here is that Huber was seriously injured which caused a lot of national discussion about the subject and much closer scrutiny than simply "Dude got jacked!"

McAfee thinks that Huber would actually agree that the discussion over the hit is probably "an overreaction."

I don't think it was because it was on a punter. That was a crown of a helmet right to a jaw," McAfee said. "And nowadays with the way modern technology -- and modern science -- has figured out the long-term effects of shots like that, I think that would've been a fine on anyone. Not just because it was a punter or they came out with the defenseless rule. It kind of sparked an overreaction a little bit and I think if you talked to Kevin Huber he'd feel the same way."

 
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