BEREA - Coming off a rib injury and with a history of physical ailments in recent seasons, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick is an inviting target for defenders.
The problem is trying to pin him down, which is like attempting to swat a bothersome fly. Another problem is being careful not to follow through on the hit in any way that would be determined illegal in the minds of the ever-watchful NFL.
With the bounty scandal involving the New Orleans Saints and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's vision of a kinder, gentler league, players now have to worry about playing too rough. That's a concern for parents when they see big brother jumping on little brother, but it was never considered a problem in a league that produced players like "Mean" Joe Greene and Dick Butkus.
Players must now be careful not to use their helmets as weapons. If they do - even by mistake - they can usually expect to hear from the commissioner's office about the middle of the following week to be informed that they owe at least $5,000 to the league's pockets.
So what is a middle linebacker expected to do when he has Vick in his sights with a chance to make him "feel" the hit?
"As defensive guys you have to pay attention to the defensive changes - the strike zone - but other than that you have to go out and play as fast as you can," Browns middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. "No guy in the league intentionally tries to hurt someone, but if you do get flagged you'll have to deal with it. You'll go through the appeal process.
"As a defensive player, you try not to think about it. Once you start thinking about it, it slows you down and it takes plays away from you."
In the case of going after Vick, the ribs are an easier target than the head. Defenders are taught to lower a shoulder with the helmet going to one side of the player. If delivered correctly, the hit should land the shoulder pads on the chest but also in the vicinity of the ribs.
"It's going to be a constant battle throughout the league," Jackson said. "The rules seem to change. Every year for the last four or five years there's been a critique here or a critique there. We haven't had consistent rules for a number of years. That's the biggest challenge for a defensive guy."
Vick was hurt against the New England Patriots in the second preseason game. Eagles coach Andy Reid rested Vick in the final two games, including a win over the Browns in Cleveland Aug. 24.
Vick has practiced at full go this week and will start when the Eagles and Browns open the season Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
"Conditioning-wise I think I'm in great shape," Vick said. "I feel real good even though I didn't play too much in the preseason, but the games I missed I was very in-tuned with the game plan and felt like if I was able to play I could have been effective. Now it's just about building on that and staying in shape and getting ready for week one."
Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown normally wouldn't have to worry about tackling a quarterback, but that changes with the Eagles in town. Vick won't hesitate to put the ball down and take off to the outside.
"I don't go out there with intentions of hurting anybody," Brown said. "You know that on any given play you can get blindsided. You're protecting yourself by all means necessary."