Life as a Noseguard Just Got Better

The NFHS (National Federation of State High School Association) is the body that writes the various high school sport rules that most states follow. They’ve made a change for football in 2011 that will make things a little safer, especially for defensive linemen.

In the past, a chop block was a “delayed” block at the thigh knees or below on an opponent that was already engaged with the blocker’s teammate. The classic example involved the center pass blocking a nose tackle. The left guard, after setting for a pass block and checking for blitz, would then turn his attention to the nose, already working against the center. If the guard attacked below the waist of the nose tackle at that point in time, it was a 15 yard penalty for chop blocking.

But if the center and guard were instead double-team blocking for a running play, things were quite different.  If the guard shot out to cut the knees of the nose tackle even if the nose had already engaged the center it was not considered a chop block, because the guard’s block was initiated simultaneous to the center’s block.

This type of blocking was known as a form of ‘high/low’ blocking, and was not illegal in high school football last year. It was a controversial style of blocking, and some (I hope most) coaches refused to teach it… but it wasn’t illegal. As of 2011, this type of block will now fit the definition of a chop block, and should draw a flag.

You can read the NFHS statement about the change here: Chop Block Rule Redefined in High School Football, but a chop block is now defined to be

“a combination block by two or more teammates against an opponent other than the runner, with or without delay, where one of the blocks is low (at the knee or below) and one of the blocks is high (above the knee).”

Let me unpack this a little. In the past, the language said that a chop block was

“a delayed block at the knees or below against an opponent who is in contact with a teammate of the blocker in the free blocking zone.”

Note that in the past, the requirements for a chop block were

  1. a delayed block at the knees or below
  2. thrown against an opponent that was in contact with a teammate of the blocker
  3. in the free blocking zone

In the new definition, we must have

  1. A combination block by two or more teammates against an opponent (other than the runner)
  2. with or without delay
  3. where one block is low (knees or below)
  4. and another block is high (above the knees)

The ‘in contact’ requirement of the old rule is gone. So NFHS appears to be telling officials, for a chop block there must be two or more guys throwing a block at the same defender.* If one of the blockers is pulling away and not engaging the defender himself, and is coincidentally contacted by that defender’s upper body, that doesn’t preclude a cut block in the free blocking zone by another blocker. In that case, the defender would actually be the one ‘blocking’ the pulling offensive player, and would not be protected by this rule. Who blocked whom becomes a defining factor.

*By the way, who fouls in the new definition? In the old rule, it was the blocker throwing the delayed block. In the new rule, is it BOTH guys? I suspect refs will name the low blocker as the guilty party.

Nevertheless, I think this is a good change, that should improve the safety of players. (In fact, I called for this change at the youth level two years ago, and am quite shocked that I’ve lived to see it happen.) The rule relieves umpires from having to determine whether a delay occurred between blocks. Now these officials can simply decide whether a combination block was both high and low. I’m anxious to see how umpires interpret various blocks and situations, and whether or not the new chop block rule is ever called.

Watch closely in games with very tight offensive line splits. When splits are tight, it is very easy for blocks to appear to happen with multiple adjacent opponents. That means that ANY cut block by an offensive player runs the risk of being a chop block, whether initiated at the snap or delayed. A defensive tackle can probably protect his knees simply by getting into the gap between two opponent’s upper bodies and sustaining contact or continuing to attempt to split them. Once he’s done that, I think most refs will determine that he can’t be legally cut.

It works both ways though! The offensive linemen are now more protected than previously. Watch Gap Air Mirror defenses and other goal line arrangements, like defending extra-point tries. Any defense that runs two ‘bear crawlers’ into an offensive lineman’s legs runs the risk of being called for a chop block. If the offensive blocker can get his hands on the upper body of ONE of those players, the other crawler can’t initiate contact at the blocker’s knees or below. If he does, that fits the definition of a a chop block, and should be a 15 yard penalty.*

* Many fans assume that blocking rules only apply to offensive players. This isn’t true. The rules of blocking also apply to defensive players, with a few exceptions for tackling the ball carrier or shedding blockers. So for example, blocks below the waist by defensive backs designed to ‘take out’ lead blockers have long been illegal in high school football, however seldom called.

The ‘wedge’ play that many double wing offenses like to run should be improved, because a defense won’t be able to crash into the offensive line’s legs if those linemen are already engaged.

So this is actually a pretty big change if the rule is enforced. I suppose that like many rule changes in sport, officials will have an adjustment period where they will miss a percentage of these fouls because they aren’t used to watching for them. There will also be some old timers who don’t like the new rule, and will turn a blind eye, believing that they have a better understanding of the ‘spirit’ of the rule or some other such nonsense.

Finally, just like the many wonderful plays I draw on my computer, we won’t really know how this will work until we start working with it on grass. But on balance, I believe this will be a good rule change, and I encourage coaches and refs to follow and enforce this new rule, and see how it works out for all of us.

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