Jim Leonhard was flagged 15 yards for helmet-to-helmet contact on Broncos WR Brandon Lloyd in Week Six, but was not fined for the infraction, as the league determined the Jets' strong safety led with a lowered shoulder, not his head.
Leonhard, who routinely delivers big hits in both pass coverage and run defense, told PFW that even with the major emphasis lately on preventing the violent collisions that can lead to concussions and long-term head injuries, there is no way to prevent these rough plays from taking place.
"You want to be as safe as you can, you want to feel safe on the field," Leonhard said. "But as a defensive player, especially, which the majority of these rules are going to come down on, it's tough, because the game is played at high speed with split-second decisions made on every play. It's a collision sport and things are going to happen, so you can't really change the way you're going to play too much.
"You're not out there trying to hurt people, but if someone comes across the middle, you have to claim your territory, stake what's yours. Receivers don't like to get hit, so anytime you can get a chance to take a shot on them, you want to do that."
The sixth-year pro has gained a reputation as one of the league's toughest and most versatile players, despite standing only 5-foot-8. Leonhard said that during the team's Week Seven bye, he watched some football and noticed the emphasis on avoiding helmet-to-helmet collisions having both a positive and negative effect.
"(I saw) guys make clean, legal hits a little bit lower with the shoulder and you also seen where guys turned down a hit and gave up a touchdown," Leonhard said. "The one that comes to my mind is Baltimore-Buffalo. (Ravens SS) Dawan Landry is a big hitter, he loves to hit, he loves contact; he flat-out turned one down and (Bills WR) Lee Evans ended up scoring a touchdown. So you've seen that this is going to affect people, but it's hard to see whether it's going to be for better or for worse, but the league is going to side with safety right now, and that's understandable.
"You really do just have to go about your business, and things are going to happen. You just hope that you aren't the one involved, you aren't the one fined."