McKivitz, WVU Offensive Line Must Adjust To New Blocking Rules

Colton McKivitz

McKivitz, WVU Offensive Line Must Adjust To New Blocking Rules

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — You’ve spent a couple of years honing your craft. Gone through countless hours of practice, drills and repetition to make everything second nature. You get to the point where you are reacting on instinct, and don’t have to think about which of several tools you’ll pull out to do the job. And then, someone takes them away from you.

That’s the position any offensive player who throws a block is in this year, what with the new restrictions on blocking below the waist in college football.

This year’s rule changes are a continuance of a trend seen over the past few years that have removed the technique from many areas and situations on the field. Rules that were passed several seasons ago prohibit blockers coming from the outside of the field toward the middle from blocking below the waist (the so-called “crackback” block), and proscribe a second blocker from contact below the waist when a defender is already engaged with another blocker.

Now, this season, more restrictions have emerged:

  • Other than offensive linemen inside the tackle box, no other offensive players can block below the waist other than directly from the front.
  • No player may block below the waist when the block occurs five yards or more beyond the neutral zone.
  • Players outside the tackle box at any time after the snap or in motion at the snap may not block below the waist toward the initial position of the ball at the snap.
  • Once the ball has left the tackle box a player may not block below the waist toward his own end line (backwards).
West Virginia offensive lineman Colton McKivitz (53) gets good blocking position

Some of these rules make sense for safety’s sake, and are an attempt to prevent knee injuries that can result when anchored defenders get hit the wrong way on that vital joint. However, they are also going to dramatically affect linemen who, after engaging initially and are running downfield, often dive to get into the legs of a second potential tackler. Keeping track of where they are on the field, and what type of block they can throw, is going to be difficult — so much so that it will likely just eliminate that sort of block all together.

“They came and talked to us before our scrimmage on Saturday. I was a little upset about the new rule,” said WVU offensive lineman Colton McKivitz. “I’m sure a whole lot of linemen are [upset]  about the whole downfield cutting thing. It’s definitely a challenge when you’re trying to chase down a cornerback who can run a 4.4 or a 4.5, unlike big linemen like us. It’s a change in our game play downfield. I think that’s where the rule will make its most impact. That’s where that’ll be felt.”

Rather than try to sort it all out and figure the dos and dont’s while in the heat of game action, it’s likely that many linemen will remove the tactic from their repertoires altogether, other than during initial blocks. The cut block will, according to McKivitz, likely remain a toll in those situations, especially against edge pass rushers, in the legal zone of the tackle box.

The effects of a chop block penalty are often more than just the yardage for the flag. A downfield chop block penalty not only sets the offense back, but also likely wipes out an appreciable gain, as those downfield penalties will typically occur after ballcarriers have broken the line of scrimmage and blockers have moved downfield in search of secondary targets. Like an offensive holding call that wipes out a big gain, it could be a momentum-killer.

McKivitz is philosophical about the new rules.

“If you’re doing your thing and getting your guy and blocking them, then there shouldn’t be any reason to get a chop block. I had one against Kansas last year, because I beat the guy to the spot, but I thought I would just cut him. It’s a new rule, but I think it’s just something to worry about. But it’ll keep up with player safety, and that’s a big emphasis for what that rule is made for – keep guys healthy instead of blocking low on guys.”

Head coach Dana Holgorsen also singled out the new chop block restrictions as one of the most significant for the coming season. He’s seen the evolution of the rules during his time at WVU, with either new rules or points of emphasis being discussed on a near-annual basis.

“It is a big one. In my eight years here, I think six of the years we’ve talked about blocking below the waist in our head coach meetings, and every year I leave more confused on what is legal and what is not legal,” he said, noting that some of the distinctions are very fine. “I do know that they’re trying to get it out of our game. We showed them a lot of examples, and the tricky part is that we don’t practice it. We don’t practice cut blocking against our own people. It’s hard to practice it, but we have to educate them. Once again, it’s up to each one of the position coaches to communicate to the players that this is an acceptable cut block, this is not an acceptable cut block. It can go on defense, too; defense can chop down offensive guys, and we do at times. They have to understand what is acceptable and what is not because they’re going to look very, very closely on cut blocks, and you’re going to see more flags on chop blocks this year.”

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