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Chargers report: Defensive backs must find the middle ground on hits

NFL defensive backs sometimes feel like major league pitchers who are getting squeezed by umpires — they’re confused by a shrinking strike zone.

The league, in an attempt to reduce brain injuries, has tried to crack down on helmet-to-helmet contact, giving referees the authority to eject players for violent, “egregious” hits to the head, though that didn’t prevent Chicago linebacker Danny Trevathan’s skull-rattling hit of Green Bay receiver Davante Adams last week.

Defenders are trying to lower their targets while tackling pass-catchers, but like one of those “unwritten rules” in baseball, receivers have made it clear they don’t want their legs targeted with hits that could cause serious knee and ankle injuries.

Chargers strong safety Jahleel Addae and Miami receiver Jarvis Landry got into a heated argument before halftime of a Sept. 17 game when Landry took exception to Addae’s undercutting tackle of DeVante Parker.

Parker made a leaping catch of a Jay Cutler pass to the sideline. Addae raced in and upended Parker with a below-the-waist hit that contorted Parker’s body and sent him flying out of bounds.

New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr., whom the Chargers will have to contend with Sunday in MetLife Stadium, lashed out at Cleveland defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun for his helmet-to-knee tackle in an Aug. 21 preseason game.

The hit took Beckham’s legs out from underneath him, causing the star to fall hard to the ground and sprain his left ankle.

“You’re talking about stuff that happens at 20-25 mph,” Chargers free safety Tre Boston said. “The speed guys are running at, they’re in your face, and they’re coming at different angles … we already can’t hit from the shoulders up, and now you’re talking about eliminating the lower body?

“You’re seeing a lot of guys get hit in the legs now … and guys with ACLs, knee problems, ankle injuries. Guys are crying about it, but hey, don’t talk to us about it, talk to the league.”

Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward, a Pro Bowl selection last season, said when he played receiver in high school, he preferred to get hit higher.

“If you ask the offensive guys, they’d rather get hit higher, in general,” he said. “They’d rather people stay away from the knees. Ask the offensive guys, and see what you come back with.”

What say you, Travis Benjamin, the Chargers’ fastest wide receiver and one who has caught 11 passes for 180 yards in four games?

“That’s kind of tough,” Benjamin said after a long pause. “God forbid, I take a low hit and have to have surgery, but you don’t want to get hit high because of concussions. So as a receiver, I’d rather get hit low. The head thing scares you.”

Former NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez felt much differently after watching safety D.J. Swearinger, then with the Houston Texans, end the career of former New York Jets tight end Dustin Keller with what Gonzalez called a “ridiculous” hit to the knee in a 2013 preseason game.

“That’s just not part of football, hitting a defenseless player in his knee,” Gonzalez said at the time. “That’s something we dread as players. That’s my nightmare. Hit me in the head instead.”

Staying put

An NFL spokesman affirmed the league’s commitment to the Chargers in Los Angeles despite the region’s apparent indifference to the club.

Opposing fans have overwhelmed Chargers fans in three StubHub Center “home” games, and with commissioner Roger Goodell in attendance Sunday, the Chargers were booed loudly by Eagles fans. Sunday’s game, a 26-24 Chargers loss, also drew a dismal 3.2 television rating in Los Angeles.

“As far as chatter that the NFL is looking for ways to return the club [to San Diego], there have been no discussions from the league or the club about this,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email to the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Those reports are false. ...

“We all recognize, and the club has made it clear, that building a fan base will take time and won’t happen overnight. But we know the Chargers are working hard in the community. The league and the commissioner are here to help play a role, and last weekend was a good example.”

Etc.

Reserve offensive lineman Max Tuerk was waived Tuesday after missing the first four games because of a performance-enhancing drug suspension. The former USC standout was a 2016 third-round pick who was inactive for all 16 games last season. … Defensive end Whitney Richardson was waived off the practice squad. … Among the changes coach Anthony Lynn is considering this week is an expanded role for third-string running back Austin Ekeler, an undrafted rookie whose first NFL carry resulted in a 35-yard touchdown run Sunday and who has caught five passes for 47 yards. “Every time he’s in the game,” Lynn said, “he’s moved the chains.” Guard Dan Feeney and tackle Michael Schofield also are expected to get more playing time. … Hayward, tight end Hunter Henry and receiver Mike Williams were among the players who spent much of Tuesday at a WSS store in Los Angeles distributing new shoes and backpacks to 450 students from Carson-area grade schools. … The Chargers signed running back LeShun Daniels, who rushed for 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns at Iowa last season, to the practice squad.

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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