“It’s going to be tough for guys to continue to play the way that my generation played it, because of the way the rules are set up,” Dawkins said.
“The thing that I’m concerned about now is where the hit zone is going to be. My hit zone is no longer going to be in the chest; it’s going to be in the knees, and you’re going to see guys getting hit in the knees a lot.
“From the sideline, and fans and everybody, you’re going to hear, ‘Oh, that’s a dirty player.’ Well, no, that’s not, because he had just hit somebody up high and they flagged him for it, they fined him for hit (or) he was suspended.
“So now, where is he supposed to hit a guy at? Down low in the knees.”
That’s where Eric Decker was hit by Pittsburgh’s James Harrison in the second quarter of the Broncos’ wild-card game on Jan. 8. Harrison lunged low and hit Decker squarely in the side of his right knee.
“That could have potentially torn his knee ump: Dawkins said. “That’s the only thing that worries me going forward: that it’s the only region you can hit a guy now.
“If I do like I’ve always done — which I would do anyway, I would still hit a guy, because to me, I’m playing football, I’m not doing anything dirty, it just so happened that he moved his head an inch to the left or the right, and we were helmet-to-helmet, and I’ll deal with the consequences. But that’s the way I chose to play and I was going to continue to play that way.
“But for these guys that come into the league, they’re going to be taught to avoid that area altogether.”
That creates its own set of problems.
“If you talk to most receivers, they will tell you that, because as crazy as it sounds, even though you don’t see somebody until the last second, you’re able to brace a little bit to prevent that, but you can’t brace your knees; you can’t brace your legs.
“And to have all that weight pushing on your legs, man, that’s a scary situation. I don’t want to see that, because to me, that’s always been a dirty play, back in the day.
“You don’t hit a guy in the knees if he doesn’t see you. If I see a big dude coming at me, you know pretty much I’m going to cut you, so get ready for that. But if you don’t see me coming, how big you are, I’m going to hit you up high, because (to hit low) I can potentially hurt you that you can miss time and end your career. That’s always been an unwritten rule.”