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Mangini defends rookie's hard hit

Browns rookie safety T.J. Ward already had a reputation for being a hard hitter before he played a single down in the NFL.

His coach doesn't think he deserves one for being dirty.

Eric Mangini defended Ward on Monday, one day after the first-year player flattened Cincinnati rookie wide receiver Jordan Shipley on a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit in the fourth quarter of Cleveland's 23-20 win over the Bengals.

On an incomplete pass over the middle, Ward clobbered a defenseless Shipley in the end zone, drawing a 15-yard personal foul and giving the Bengals a first down inside the Cleveland 10-yard line. Shipley was briefly knocked out and suffered a concussion.

Afterward, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Terrell Owens both accused Ward of taking a "cheap shot" at Shipley.

Mangini said that while it was an aggressive play, he didn't think Ward, a second-round pick from Oregon, intentionally tried to injure Shipley.

"T.J. is not a dirty guy," Mangini said Monday. "He's a young guy. He's an aggressive guy, and he's an inexperienced guy, but he's not a dirty guy. He's a good person. He's a good kid. I'm not going to try to take anything off of the way that he plays because I think it's a real strength, but there are things that he will learn to do even better within the framework of the rules."

Mangini expects Ward to be fined by the league, which has been trying to clean up hits to the head in the aftermath of new research on concussions.

"In talking to T.J., and one of the things I stressed, I don't want him to change his aggressiveness but we're going to operate within the boundary of the rules," Mangini said. "You like physical play, but you can't put the team in that situation where you give them a new set of downs. I don't want to see our guys hitting guys in the head when they're defenseless.

"We can be just as tough and do it in the framework of how it is supposed to be."

Following the game, Ward insisted that he led with his shoulder on the hit. He said Palmer and a few other Bengals approached him after the questionable play, but that he ignored them.

Browns linebacker Scott Fujita said it's difficult for a defensive player running full speed to pull up and avoid contact.

"What are you supposed to do?" Fujita said. "You're trying to make a play, to basically disrupt a pass and that's his job as a safety. It's so difficult and it's a huge issue with safeties right now because they're kind of headhunters on the back end. They're safeties for a reason, to prevent a big play from happening, and unfortunately their hands are kind of tied.

"I see where the league is going with it too. You want to protect players, and the head injury is obviously a huge issue. It's just tough and kind of a fine line that guys in that position have to learn to walk."