Ruling on the field – blocking kicks

Nick ‘Willy Tee’ Wilson-Town and DC’s friendly neighbourhood zebra Simon Love team up to take us on a journey through rules of the game which we all claim to know… But actually don’t. This week our dynamic duo are taking a look at the often contentious kicking game – most specifically, the blocking thereof.

So, this ‘one second on the snapper’ thing – what’s that all about?

It’s one of those pesky ‘safety rules’ that protect you from annoying hindrances such as paralysis or…  Death. The long snapper puts himself in a position whereby he exposes the nape of his neck and the back of his head, thus making him particularly vulnerable. As such the second affords him the opportunity to get back into a proper blocking position. Immediate contact will result in a 15 yard penalty and automatic first down (9-1-14) … so it’s a pretty shoddy idea. There’s a couple of provisos to keep in mind though:

  • The kicking team have to be in an ‘obvious’ kicking formation. Sneaky shotgun punts and similar mean your snapper doesn’t get any extra protection.
  • It doesn’t count if the contact is ‘incidental’ – for example if you’re rushing the gap and make initial contact with the ‘guard’ as opposed to the snapper, that’s a-ok.

 

Alright, that makes some sense I guess… But come on, a ‘second’? It’s pretty tough to judge precisely one second.

Simon says: The one second is rough guidance. If the snapper immediately pops up and is ready to take contact after half a second, you won’t draw a flag by making contact. Likewise if the snapper still has his head down and you hit him after 1.1 seconds you could well be penalised. The second is a “common sense” interval to allow the snapper a chance to recover and is not fixed. Also note that a deliberate attempt to punish the snapper by making contact with his head or neck will lead to ejection

Tee: You’ll notice a lot of NFL teams don’t ‘cover’ the snapper at all and instead look to overwhelm the blockers elsewhere along the line… Which actually brings us to another point.

What’s that then?

No triple teaming.

I think that’s a bit personal…

Yeah, we’re not talking about in the bedroom, but rather during place kicks (field goals and PATs) where it’s illegal for three d-linemen to line up shoulder to shoulder and all initiate contact with the same offensive linemen in an attempt to overwhelm a single point in the line. This’ll push you back 5 yards. (6-3-14)

Right, so I’m aware where I can’t go through them… I guess I’ll just go over them!

Unlikely Captain Kangaroo – there’s a whole ream of restrictions involved here, and in most cases you’ll simply see a duster flying and a 15 yard burger with automatic first-down-fries on the side:

  • Any use of leverage, be it either stepping on, being lifted by, or even as simple as placing your hand on a team mate to gain extra height? POW! 15 yards and a first down for the kicking team.
  • Jumping over and landing on one of the kicking team’s players? BOOM! Fitteen and a Furst!
  • But you’re an athlete you say and made the jump clean over the top?!? Well kudos on the spring in your step, but sorry: while Kam Chancellor looked awesome doing it in the divisional round, for you, with this rulebook? It’d be laundry on the field for leaping over an opponent (9-1-11) . Did you know hurdling’s not even allowed unless you’re the ball carrier? (9-1-13)

 

Here’s your only realistic option: being stationary within 1 yard of the line of scrimmage ahead of the snap and attempting to jump the gap between two linemen… if there is one. Best bet might be to leave the acrobatics for another occasion.

Ok. So I’ve not brained the snapper, triple-teamed any lineman or pogoed right over anybody’s head… now I’m getting flagged for barely touching the guy kicking the ball! What’s that about?!

‘Roughing the kicker’ (15 yards and an automatic first down) is probably one of the most commonly misunderstood penalties in this game. There’s a lot of interesting little factors and provisos that need to be taken into account. I suggest you go read them for yourself if you really want to have a good grasp of them for game day.

feel like we’ve covered this ‘reading’ thing before…

Ok, so Cliffsnotes it is: Hitting a kicker (or a holder for that matter) is NOT a foul when:

  • The contact is ‘incidental’
  • The player making contact was caused to do so due to the blocking of an opponent
  • The player making contact has already made contact with the kicked ball itself (though anyone other than the one that touched the ball hitting the kicker is still a foul)
  • The kicker/holder’s had a ‘reasonable amount of time’ to regain his balance (in which case why are you hitting him anyway?)
  • The kicker/holder has carried the ball outside the tackle box.

 

Finally, if the contact merely ‘displaces’ the kicker/holder rather than ‘roughs’ them, this’d be be a ‘running into’ offence which only warrants a 5 yarder against the offender.

Oh, and by-the-by kickers? Before you start signing up for acting classes: Simulating being ‘roughed’, or even over-acting when you’ve been ‘run into’… Unsportsmanlike conduct, 15 yards.

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Ok, so if you’ve successfully jumped all these hurdles (metaphorically), you may have actually managed to blocked a kick! Congratulations!

Image courtesy of UT San Diego
Image courtesy of UT San Diego

We’ll be delving into some of the most commonly controversial and misinterpreted areas of the game in the weeks to come, or if there’s an area of the game that’s particularly grinding your gears let us know in the comments and through the DC social media so ‘Ruling on the field’ can take a look at it for you.

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Nick

Nick 'Willy Tee' Wilson-Town hails from the South West where he's spent the last decade bouncing around various teams at the university and senior level. He came to fame on the now departed unofficial forum thanks to his regularly irreverent Uniball predictions and general 'BUAFL wafflage'. Follow him on twitter @WillyTee1