Monday, September 7, 2009

NFL Eliminates the Wedge to Reduce Spine Injuries

The NFL's decision to eliminate three- and four-man wedge formations on kickoff-return teams has prompted coaches to design innovative wrinkles to adapt to the rule change.

The league's emphasis on player safety helped legislate human snowplows of three or more shoulder-to-shoulder behemoths out of the game. Only two of the league's 32 teams didn't use wedge clusters last season, according to the league's vice president for officiating Mike Pereira.The NFL's competition committee cited the nature -- not the frequency -- of injuries on kickoffs as the driving force behind eliminating a wall of three 300-pound blockers interlocking arms or joining hands on kickoffs. Neck injuries and concussions often resulted when players plunged into the wedge, head down, to break up the human roadblocks.
"We were seeing some of these violent collisions at both ends of it," said competition committee member Tony Richardson, who was a member of the Jets' three-man wedge last season. "The guys in the wedge were getting pummeled, and the guys hitting the wedge were getting pummeled."
Freak injuries on kickoffs, of course, aren't limited to wedge collisions. Bills special teamer Kevin Everett's spinal cord injury that caused temporary paralysis on a blast on then-Broncos returner Dominik Hixon two years ago occurred outside of the cluster formation.

New York Jets Robert Turner discusses the two-man wedge


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