By BOB LABRIOLA
Hines Ward said he needs "a better understanding." Coach Mike Tomlin admits to being "bewildered."
And the shared confusion concerns the reasons why the NFL fined Ward $15,000 for unnecessary roughness in the Steelers two most recent games – against the Baltimore Ravens on a Monday night and in Jacksonville against the Jaguars the following Sunday night.
According to published reports, Ward was fined $5,000 for the Ravens game, and he said the letter notifying him of that action explained why. But as to the $10,000 fine following the Steelers 26-21 win over the Jaguars, Ward said he got no explanation. Ward said he will appeal the fines.
"I join him in being bewildered on the second (fine)," said Tomlin when asked about it at his weekly news conference. "That's how this guy has played football in this league for a long time now. Neither one of the incidents were penalties. Don't get me wrong, I understand what the league is trying to do from a safety standpoint, and I am for that. We've got to be competitive, we've got to be professional, we've got to put a good product out there for our fans. But, boy, it's starting to cost a little too much money to come to work for some of these guys. We have to get a little clarity in regards to that, and I just think that's something we are working on as a league."
Other Steelers players have been fined recently, but each of those seemed to have a specific incident tied to the league's action.
James Harrison was fined $20,000 after the Jaguars game, but that was for a postgame comment about the officiating, a comment precipitated by his disagreeing with a roughing-the-passer penalty called on him for a hit on David Garrard.
Nate Washington was fined $7,500 for a taunting penalty assessed on him in that same game, and Ryan Clark was docked $7,500 for a personal foul penalty called on him for his hit on Jaguars receiver Matt Jones.
Criticizing the officials publicly is an almost automatic fine, and taunting as well as certain personal fouls also usually draw fines as a matter of course.
But what did Ward do to lose $10,000?
"He played football," said Tomlin. "I plan to make a phone call and get some clarity this week and relay that to Hines because more than anything, we want to be a team, and he wants to be a player who plays the game the way it is supposed to be played, played the way our league wants it played, and we respect that. But we need a little clarity on that situation."
Ward has said Tomlin warned him that the league was watching him, but the four-time Pro Bowl selection also wants some assurance that he is not being targeted.
"If anything, I want to see what they're fining (other players) for personal fouls against me," said Ward. "It would be kind of weird that I get fined and some of those players aren't getting fined. If I'm the only one getting fined and other players aren't getting fined, that brings up a huge question for me."
Always at the top of any list of the most physical wide receivers in football, Ward has a reputation for being a player who blocks to the whistle, and his physical style has been adopted by the wide receivers who have played with him. But nobody at the position does it as consistently as Ward.
"I think he probably plays the position differently than a lot of people who play this position," said Tomlin. "You can say 'target,' but I don't choose to use those words. Make no mistake, he plays the wide receiver position different than most people play it. He is probably viewed a little differently because of that. He's a very physical player. He's a football player first, and a wide receiver second. But like I said, it is our goal and our desire to play within the rules of the game. We believe that we are doing that, he has been penalized, but at the same time we want to share the Commissioner's vision in terms of players' safety, so we need to get a little clarity on those issues."