View Full Version : No more big wedges on kickoffs as NFL changes rule

09-11-2009, 10:14 PM
FOXBOROUGH, Mass.(AP)—Tully Banta-Cain(notes) charged downfield, heading for a collision with four bigger, tightly bunched blockers, and hoping to tackle the kickoff returner.

The 250-pound linebacker for the New England Patriots has done that many times and knows the pain of taking on the wedge.

“I’ve had my bell rung,” Banta-Cain said. “I’ve gotten up after a big collision and been like, ” `Wooo, shake it off.’ “

This season, he and others in his dangerous position are getting help. The NFL is limiting the width of the wedge to help avoid such high-speed contact that can lead to concussions, broken bones and other injuries.

No longer can huge players form three- or four-man wedges, sometimes linking hands or arms, then head upfield and knock down potential tacklers like so many bowling pins. Now wedges can consist of no more than two men together, with the next closest player beside them at least 2 yards away.

“I can remember looking at plays where we saw that there were injuries involving the vertebrae and the neck,” said Mike Pereira, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, but “you’re still going to have collisions.”

Those are likely to involve smaller people in the two-man groups because mobility will be more important as it becomes easier for opponents covering the kick to go around the wedge. Several returners and coaches said they don’t know yet if the length of returns will be affected.

The NFL made other changes to protect players: