Four days later, there is still some doubt about the frightening hit Deshazor Everett laid on Darren Sproles during Washington’s 27-22 victory over the Eagles Sunday.
Was it just bad timing? Or bad timing with bad intentions?
"I didn’t see him fair catch the ball,’’ Everett said in the Redskins' locker room after the game, and Wednesday that continued to be the party line in Washington. A report from the Washington Post, citing league sources, said a fine was imminent but not a suspension for the hit, which concussed Sproles and ended his day. He was still in the NFL’s concussion protocol Wednesday and not available to discuss the hit.
"He just mistimed it,’’ Redskins coach Jay Gruden said Wednesday. "He wasn’t trying to injure, and that’s an unfortunate deal. He was apologetic about it. But I love his energy. He plays hard, he plays fast. Special teams, he has made his mark.’’
Poor choice of words there, Coach, especially to someone like Bryan Braman, who was still stewing about the hit when I asked him about it Wednesday in the Eagles' locker room. An undrafted free agent like Everett, Braman has been doing for six seasons what Everett has been doing for one. And "War-daddy," as punter Donnie Jones calls him, understands his razor’s edge existence depends on how noticeable he can be in just a few plays every Sunday.
He also understands how quickly he’ll be gone if those plays are not made judiciously. Which gives him a better read on that play, including the pivotal question: whether it was a fair catch or not.
"I guess I’m a little different," Braman said. "Because as a cover guy, you’re focused on the returner. Where he goes, you go. You’re not watching the ball through the air. You’re watching the returner, the returner is going to take you to the ball. It’s hard for me to believe you didn’t see a fair catch.
"If he didn’t fair catch it than I can see a difference between just getting there early and a fair catch. But there was a lot there to make me think it was a little easier for him to make that game-time decision than just blame it on being quick."
Braman said he saw Sproles signal for a fair catch. And even if Everett didn’t, he said, the manner in which Sproles fielded the ball strongly suggested he was not intending to advance it.
"When you fair catch, your arms are usually down by your side," he said. "He’s not running around like this (putting his hands above his shoulders). Normally his hands will come up only when he’s ready to catch the ball.
"So for his hands to be down by his side and get hit like that… doesn’t seem like a good football play to me.’’
Some subtleties in the video available on the play support Braman’s assessment. Sproles’ knee is nearly on the ground when Everett levels him, crashing into his head. It does not look like his legs are under him as they would be if he intended to return it.
"To me it’s the perfect definition of 'targeting,'’’ Braman said. "He’s a defenseless receiver. And everything they’ve done to implement safety and focus on what we’re going to do to change the game… seems like it’s going against a lot of that.’’