On the Steelers: So you want to protect the punter?
December 21, 2013 8:55 PM
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
Bengals punter Kevin Huber broke his jaw and will miss the rest of the season after a big hit by Steelers linebacker Terence Garvin.
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
There's nothing wrong with the NFL trying to protect kickers and punters because, as I've long maintained, they are not real football players.
Kickers and punters do not block and tackle, for the most part, and compared to other real football players, they're on the field for only a few plays and they do not practice much.
One real test to this will come when the voting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame takes place the day before the Super Bowl. Ray Guy is a Seniors candidate and if he makes it, he will be the first punter-only to get into the Hall.
While the NFL is right to protect punters and kickers from the kind of abuse Steelers linebacker Terence Garvin laid on Bengals punter Kevin Huber last Sunday, they also need to protect those making those blocks by helping them identify who they're blocking.
The block Garvin threw on Huber would have been legal had he thrown it on any of the other 10 Bengals running down on their punt to Antonio Brown. But many times, players on the punt-return team assigned to block do not have time to determine which player is the punter and which they can knock into the second deck.
Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham, who has five tackles (25 in his career) and a forced fumble this year, understands both ends of the rule.
"It certainly wouldn't be fair if I just kicked off and had my head down and someone was targeting me. I think it's right and fair to be protected in that situation," he said.
"But when you interject yourself right into a play, those guys have a job to do. When you have a kicker who is 6 feet, 200 pounds and is the same size as a safety, for a guy to be able to decipher whether he's the kicker or not in a split second is very difficult and potentially unfair."
They are permitted to block the punter/kicker, just not viciously. Here is one simple way for players to always know who the punter/kicker is and how not to block him: Outfit the punter/kicker in one of those bright orange vests that deer hunters wear. The way the NFL is always looking for a way to squeeze more money out of its product, it might get Dick's to supply them and pay to sponsor them. In soccer, they make the goalies wear a different-color shirt, why not the kickers and punters in football?
Either that, or they could simply have the punter and kicker run directly off the field as soon as they kick the ball. Then they would be nice and safe and the Terence Garvins of the world could do their jobs as they've been taught for their lifetime of playing football.
Not only would getting them off the field protect the punters and kickers, it might open up a few more exciting kick and punt returns. Once in a while a punter or kicker gets in the way of a return man to alter his route or slow him down or, once in a great while, make a tackle.
The video of former Steelers punter Daniel Sepulveda blowing up a punt returner when he played at Baylor was a classic. So, too, is Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee blasting Denver Broncos return man Trindon Holliday in October. McAfee, a Plum native, hit Holliday so hard that he implied that is why the NFL ordered a steroids test of him the next day. Holliday is 5-5, 169. McAfee is 6-1, 233. The helmet hit was legal, the NFL ruled by not fining McAfee. You can see the hit on YouTube.
Does McAfee deserve special attention? Yes, the NFL says, because he is a punter, even if he's out there like everyone else head-hunting.
Former NFL lineman Mike Golic of the ESPN's Mike & Mike morning radio show had this to say about it Wednesday morning, according to the Huffington Post:
"We've seen punters make tackles before, have we not? They'll push someone out of bounds, they'll throw their body and probably scream like a woman when they do it ... I'm just kidding."
He was only kidding about the screaming like a woman part because, well, he has a female audience. He was not kidding about the rest. Golic is old-school but he is on point.
Either put an orange vest on them or get them off the field immediately after they kick the ball.
Off the top of the head...
* The Steelers should thank Miami special teams coach Darren Rizzi for stepping onto the field during Troy Polamalu's return of a missed field goal attempt at Heinz Field. Unlike the major production the NFL made out of Mike Tomlin's $100,000 fine, the league secretly -- and probably with red faces as its officials missed yet another call -- fined Rizzi $10,000. There was no talk about the Dolphins losing draft picks, and that Rizzi move could kill any talk of the Steelers losing them as well.
* Bruce Arians, pictured at left, should thank the Steelers for forcing his "retirement" from coaching after they declined to extend his contract as offensive coordinator following the 2011 season. He went on to be named NFL Coach of the Year as interim coach for the ill Chuck Pagano in 2012. That helped him earn the job as Arizona Cardinals head coach this year. With a 9-5 record, he already has the second-most victories by a first-year Cardinals coach and with two more wins can tie Norm Barry's 11 victories in 1925.
* How could anyone be surprised that Tomlin said he preferred Le'Veon Bell over Eddie Lacy in the draft? Do they think he might say he preferred Lacy but they decided to draft Bell instead?
* Of all the teams still eligible to reach the playoffs, the Steelers are the longest of shots to win it all -- 300-1, according to Bovada. San Diego and Arizona are the next-longest at 75-1.
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