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Special Teams Practice And The New Wedge Rules

Posted by Matt Terl on August 1, 2009 – 4:39 pm

Special teams coach Danny Smith talked to the media for a while after practice today, so a little more news than usual came out of special teams practice: the punt return competition is open, but incumbent Antwaan Randle El would have to be considered the front-runner and likely starter, possibly with spot appearances from DeAngelo Hall and/or Santana Moss. The kicking competition is legitimate, with Smith trying to figure out the most fair way to divvy up the opportunities in preseason. Hunter Smith is the real deal, and also a great holder. (I’ll have a lot more on the holding thing, along with some other special teams stuff, tomorrow.)

But the actual afternoon special teams practice today was mainly about kickoff and punt coverage. And, in keeping with Coach Smith’s philosophy, it was largely drills. (“I’m a big drill guy and a technique guy,” he said afterward, “so we’re just trying to teach them some drills. We’re putting them into game situations through drills and it really helps guys coming from college, especially a lot of the young guys, because a lot of them haven’t done this type of work.”)

But I wondered about the kick return drills, because they didn’t look all that dissimilar from what I watched last year. And that’s not how I thought it was supposed to be.
This offseason, the NFL changed its rules about blocking wedges on kick returns, basically — it seemed — forbidding teams from using groups of three or more guys to demolish the kick coverage gunners and open lanes for the returners. So I asked special teams ace (and general jack of all trades) Lorenzo Alexander afterward how the new rules were actually being implemented.

“We did it a little bit in OTAs,” he said, “so this wasn’t the first time. Since we’ve been knocking people out over the years — Kedric Golston, me, Mike Sellers, Chris Wilson — they changed the rule on us. So we’re working on something a little different.”

Here’s the actual rule — and why things looked so similar — as Alexander explained it to me: “Can’t have more than two guys within two yards of each other when the ball is caught. Once you start making contact with guys it might look wrong, but it’s still within the rules.”

That’s it?

“That’s it. We’re still confident, we still got our same roles and our same expectations. We’ve just gotta get it on film, which is what the preseason is for, and I think it’ll work its way out.”

(I also asked Alexander how practice had gone, if Coach Smith had gotten on anyone’s back about anything, “Nah,” he said, “Long as you run around, show great effort and pay attention to detail with him, he’s good.”

Here, for comparison, is how Coach Smith answered a question after practice about what he looks for in a special teams guy: “The big thing is effort. If you give me effort, my job is to coach you.”

So I guess Smith and Alexander are on the same page.)

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