Friday, May 8, 2009

NFL Rule To Ban Blocking Wedges: Better Safety, More Thrills.

When you watch an NFL football game, what is the most potentially exciting play? Many of you would probably answer this question with: a kick-off returned for a touchdown. This is because it is truly thrilling to see a player take it the distance, past eleven potential tacklers, following their blockers, cutting it back, and usually lastly, reminding everyone why the kicker is just that: a kicker. Not many plays can turn a game around, break open a game or break the spirit of an opponent like a kick-off returned for six.

Unfortunately, this rarely happens. Not only does it not happen often, but, when it does happen, it's not always so thrilling. Exciting, yes. Thrilling? This depends. The majority of returns happen like this: The returner catches the ball, runs straight up Field behind his blocking wedge, bounces it to the outside and runs up the sidelines into the endzone.

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With the wedge in place, as a returner, you'd be foolish not to follow their lead. If the wedge gets in the way of enough defenders, the returner can just usually make one smart cut to his left or right and, if the other would be defenders have over pursued, he's off to the races.

But, this year, wedges will not be allowed. We all recall many scary moments over the past few years of players colliding with each other during kick-off returns resulting in one player falling down limp. When players collide at those speeds, all it takes is an awkward angle and BOOM- a player's life has changed, his career is over and everyone just prays he'll walk again.

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Many of these injuries were the result of the wedge blockers and resultant "wedge busters," whose sole purpose was to sprint down the field and disrupt the wedge, usually resulting in the most violent collisions that occurred in a given football game. Now that the wedge will be no more in the NFL, the potential for this type of career and even life threatening injury should be seriously diminished and I think most people are happy about that.

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An added side affect, however, I predict, will be a huge bonus for the NFL. With no wedges, the action on a kick-off will be spread more widely across the field. With the wedge, it was obvious where the return was to go- behind the wedge. Basically, if the wedge worked to perfection, a good returner with some vision and, of course, speed, could spring one the distance. Wedge perfection is rare and therefore, so were returns. And, even when a kick-off was returned, because all the action centered around the wedge, many times it was simply a matter of the returner getting passed the initial wave of a cluster of players and the attention that the wedge draws. Therefore, as I said earlier, the returner often only had to make one smart cut and that was basically it. Exciting, yes. All touchdowns are exiting. Thrilling? Not so much.

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Without the wedge, the action can go anywhere. It will be more in the hands (and heart) of the returner as to where the best place to run is. A Kick-off return will start to have more elements of a punt return. The runner will be able to and will have to be more creative and make more cuts. The days of a "one cut to the house" returns will be over. A kick-off returned all the way will now involve several missed tackles, many amazing blocks, superior vision, quickness and speed by the runner. A return for a TD will not only be a safer version of the most exciting play during a football game, but the most thrilling as well.

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