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Osi Umenyiora, Chris Canty speak out on cut blocking

Chris Canty #99 of the New York Giants

Chris Canty #99 of the New York Giants celebrates a tackle late in the game against the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium. (Jan. 1, 2012) Credit: Jim McIsaac

It's not a laughing matter for many defensive linemen, but Chris Canty couldn't help chuckling.

As reported last week, first by Sports Illustrated, the NFL is considering banning below-the-waist blocks -- cut blocks -- as soon as next season, meaning that offensive linemen no longer could dive at the legs and feet of defensive players.

"They do this in my eighth year?" the Giants defensive tackle said, laughing. "They're trying to do this now? Thanks."

Having their knees and ankles taken out has long been the biggest complaint defensive linemen have about the way they are treated by their offensive counterparts. The technique has become prevalent in the NFL in recent years with the use of zone-blocking schemes and systems.

Some teams -- the Texans, Broncos and Redskins -- have developed reputations for using cut blocks effectively. But Giants defensive players would welcome having the rules modified to outlaw those blocks.

"It's imperative," defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. "I don't understand for the life of me why that block is still allowed. I know you want to slow some people down, but people are tearing their ACLs, getting hurt and maimed out there. And it's not like our legs are any less valuable than a quarterback or offensive player, so why not protect us all?

"You can't even touch a quarterback now without it being a fine and $50,000 coming out of your pocket, but it's OK for them to cut me and tear my ACL and ruin my career and eliminate the ability to put food in my family's mouth? I don't think it's right at all. Hopefully something will be done about that. It's been talked about for years. Nobody cares."

He went as far as to say that a defensive lineman would prefer to get hit in the head and suffer a concussion than have his legs taken out. "That can set you back for a long period of time," he said of a leg injury. "We don't want that [block] and it should be eliminated."

Canty agreed: "If you're going to talk about player safety, you have defensive players in this league, too. I think it's time that other people consider our safety and our well-being. A lot of the time the rules are such and the game is oriented toward protecting offensive players. They really don't pay a lot of attention or focus on protecting defensive players. And it's unfortunate."

Perhaps the recent push for this rule change comes from the high-profile injury to Texans linebacker Brian Cushing, who tore his ACL when blocked low by Jets guard Matt Slauson in October. Cushing addressed the proposed change with the Houston Chronicle on Friday, well aware that his team is one of the teams that uses the technique the most.

"It's been a huge part of the game the last couple years, especially with our offensive scheme," he said. "I'm not sure what to feel about [the proposal]. Obviously, I feel a little strongly about it since something did happen to me. Obviously, players it's never happened to before could [not] care less."

The Giants rarely use cut blocks, but there are times, guard Kevin Boothe said, when it is necessary. "If it's something that the play needs, if it's needed, you have to do what you have to do to get the job done," Boothe said. "I don't see us as a team where we're cutting 30 times a game. We have it. We can. There are times we do it."

And there's nothing illegal about it. Yet.

The NFL already has rules against chop blocks, sometimes called high-low blocks. An offensive player cannot go at the lower body of a defender who already is engaged with another offensive player. Cut blocks, for now, are legal as long as they take place in what NFL rules describe as the "close line" zone, which is between the tackles and within 3 yards of each side of the line of scrimmage.

"I always thought to myself: 'You lift all those weights in the offseason, it doesn't make sense that guys cut,' " Canty said. "You should have to block somebody. Just my thoughts."

Umenyiora, too, used the weight-lifting logic.

"There's really no need for a guy to block you and try to take out your knees when he can block you straight up," Umenyiora said. "We all lift the same weights, so it's like 'What are you doing?' "Umenyiora said defensive players talk. They know which players are the ones who cut block the most.

"You see it on tape, too, man," he said. "You see the guys who do it with malicious intent and you see the guys who just do it to try to slow you down. Those guys who try to do it with malicious intent are usually the less-skilled players who aren't really that good football players and they have to use something to their advantage and they try to use that. There's really no need for that in our game."

The proposal might not become a new rule, though. With the league focused on offense, there might not be enough votes to handcuff the high-scoring side of the ball. Some also believe there is nothing wrong with the rules as they are.

"Taking a guy's knees out is against the rules if it's outside the [box]," Boothe said. "I feel as though there are rules in place to try to limit the vulnerability and I think there is a technique to doing it where you try to not injure guys. Instead of literally falling on somebody's leg, it's more of a run and take their legs out rather than fall on a lot of legs planted. You never want to hurt anybody, put it that way. That's never the objective of low block or cut block."

But people do get hurt -- often from those cut blocks that are legal by current standards.

"These guys are getting paid to block, and that's not really blocking to me," Giants defensive tackle Rocky Bernard said. "It's just diving at a guy's legs. That's usually where a lot of injuries come from."

"Especially a lot of big guys. Ankles and knees getting caught up in the pile, something like that . . . The worst times is when they try to cut you and they roll. When a 300-pounder is rolling and they catch the backside of your ankle and roll with it and it gets caught in the grass, that's how you get high ankle sprains."

Opinions also differ as to how much a new cut-blocking rule would change the game. Some, such as Umenyiora, don't think it would alter the way it is played from a big-picture perspective.

"I don't think that will do anything at all," Umenyiora said. "It's more of a vertical downfield passing game anyway."

Canty thinks the change would be significant.

"Every team zone blocks in this league," he said. "The game has gone to that. It's not your downhill, gap-blocking, hard, move-them-off-the-ball blocks anymore. It's side-to-side, it's more of the zone scheme things. There is cut blocking that is involved in that.

"It would change," Canty said of the structure of the game. "It's a big change. It's a big change."

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