When the NFL did away with the wedge block on special teams returns – an increase in concussions called for some sort of change – many thought the NCAA would soon follow.
And the ban for college football, in effect starting in 2010, was made official Thursday by the NCAA.
Some programs – one being the University of Washington – had already begun researching “Plan B” long before the rule change was announced.
“We’ll have to change some things concept-wise,” UW special teams coordinator Johnny Nansen said. “The big thing, you can’t bring four of those guys (in a wedge) anymore, but you can bring two guys.”
A common line of thinking is that under the current guidelines, kickoff returns will transform more into what is seen on punt returns – man-to-man “wall” blocking a speedy returner can set up behind, patiently wait for a crease to develop and then take off.
“There are more athletic people on the field the way it sets up for now,” Huskies returner Johri Fogerson said. “From the looks of it now…. arm tackles will be set up for us to break through for our big-play opportunities.”
In the past, Pacific-10 Conference schools have normally employed wedge blocking on kickoff returns. Of the six kickoff-return setups the UW utilized last season, half of them featured that blocking technique.
In fact, in the final four games, the Huskies almost exclusively used wedge blocking as their primary approach.
Yet their 18.6-yard average on kickoff returns was ninth in the conference, and forced Nansen to study the team’s deficiencies.
“What I found out watching film a year ago, we weren’t good at any of (the six techniques),” Nansen said. “So we wanted to focus on two returns and let’s get good at them, and have our kids know them. Off that, maybe we can build one more or two more (later in the season).”
The Huskies have done little kickoff-return work – especially blocking – this spring. Part of the reason was coaches were waiting for the official NCAA ruling. The other is that they have spent time putting players through drills to see who best fits on those particular special teams.
As of Saturday, five players – Fogerson, newcomers Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper, running back Chris Polk and receiver Cody Bruns – have rotated in and out as kickoff returners.
“No doubt … this now opens (the) door for kids like Jesse or Cooper who can make guys miss and go,” Nansen said.
Bruns (head) and offensive guard Gregory Christine (turf toe) returned to full-contace practice. … Safety Greg Walker needed assistance to get off the field early in practice from a hyperextended elbow. … At the end of practice, offensive tackle Mark Armelin was seen on the side crawling on his stomach – from one end of the field to the other – as punishment. His position-group mates watched. “When you miss an offensive line meeting,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said, “the other offensive linemen don’t take very kindly to it.” … The Huskies finished up their two-day coaches clinic Saturday. One of the keynote speakers was former NFL lineman Mark Schlereth, who is now an NFL analyst for ESPN. He spoke to the players about what it means to be a great teammate, then helped drill some of the offensive linemen – particularly guard Ryan Tolar – during practice. … Tacoma’s Jay Stricherz, a Pacific-10 Conference head referee, attended his first UW workout of spring. He was at the Masters golf tournament last week.
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442