CLEVELAND -- When the Cleveland Browns acquired veteran linebacker Jamie Collins in a trade with the New England Patriots ahead of the deadline at the beginning of November, they got more than just an experienced defender.
Collins has a unique ability to block kicks on special teams, and uses his leaping skills to get over the line of scrimmage and land safely while getting to and disrupting the path of the football.
“If you have a guy, that is in your back pocket,” Browns special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor said. “The rules states this: the guy that is hurdling the player, he can’t be at the heels of the down linemen as he takes off before the ball is snapped because if he is at the heels and the ball hasn’t been snapped, he is considered covering up the long snapper, which is illegal.”
According to Tabor, finding players athletic enough to block kicks and do so within the framework of the rules can be a challenge, but in Collins, the Browns have such a defender.
“When he goes over, obviously, he can’t put his hands down to propel himself up or over so he has to be clean, kind of like what the Denver guy did the other night,” Tabor said. “Those are kind of the things. If you don’t get it, that is a big penalty on you. The other thing with guys going, guys in the front used to go down so the offensive linemen would drop down so it would make it easier for the guy to hurdle. Now, you can’t do that.
“The upfront guys, they can only, with open hands, put their hands on the offensive linemen and kind of push them down. You can do that. You are taking a chance that somebody is popping up, and then, you have a blown knee and you lose your player right there. Guys that can do that, the timing has to be just right, so you try to figure those things out as you are studying the field goal team.”
The rules for blocking kicks have been altered in recent years with an eye on exacting positive change in the name of safety for linemen, which is something Tabor feels is a good thing so long as it does not take away from the game.
“I love the game of football,” Tabor said. “In my area, I don’t ever want the kickoff not to exist because of player safety, but I am all for adjusting the rules to making the game still competitive and safe. I just think as things go on, people and rules are always going to evolve. I don’t think the league has gone too far. I really don’t. The rules are the rules. You play within the rules, and if you can find a way to bend them, then you take advantage of it.”