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NFL grumbles grow in wake of cut block

By Patrick Saunders

Denver Post Staff Writer

Post / John Leyba

Broncos offensive players watch on Sept. 19 as Jaguars defensive end Paul Spicer is carted off the field with a broken leg.

Another low blow by an offensive lineman has put the Broncos in the middle of a controversy.

In Denver's 23-10 loss Monday night at Cincinnati, right tackle George Foster employed a cut block on defensive tackle Tony Williams. The block broke Williams' left ankle and likely ended his season. He is scheduled to have surgery this morning.

Although an NFL spokesman said Foster's block was within the rules, a number of Bengals labeled Foster's block a cheap shot. And Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who saw the play on television, said the block was out of bounds.

"I would not condone it," Cowher told reporters Tuesday at his weekly news conference. "Is it illegal? No. Is it necessary? I don't think so, personally, having played the game. Do unto others as you want others to do unto you.

"I know if I had lost one of our players with that type of play, I would be very upset about it."

Monday night, Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said he didn't see the play and couldn't comment. But Williams' teammates were angry.

"It was a dirty, cheap shot by a dirty, cheap dude that don't deserve to be in the NFL," defensive end Duane Clemons told Cincinnati reporters. Clemons spent three seasons in Kansas City and has faced Denver linemen in the past.

The Broncos have a league- wide reputation as a team that teaches its linemen to cut block. In Week 2, Jacksonville's Paul Spicer was knocked out for the season after a low block by left tackle Matt Lepsis. The Jaguars originally cried foul, arguing Lepsis put an illegal chop block on Spicer. Game films showed Lepsis used a legal cut block, and he was not fined by the NFL.


When Broncos right tackle George Foster's cut block broke the left ankle of Cincinnati defensive tackle Tony Williams on Monday night, it set off a debate about ethical blocking in the NFL. In layman's terms, here are the rules:

Cut block: If done properly, it is legal. It occurs when the offensive player blocks the defender below the waist and tries to knock the defender off his feet or impede his movement. Foster's block on Williams was a cut block, but a number of Bengals players called it a dirty tactic.

Chop block: It's illegal and can cost the blocker up to $20,000 in fines. A chop block occurs when a defensive lineman is engaged with a blocker, and another blocker comes in and takes out the defender's legs. It not only is illegal, it's dangerous, because it can tear ligaments or fracture a leg.

A recent Sports Illustrated survey of 354 current and former NFL players ranked the dirtiest players in the league, with three Broncos making the top 10. Offensive linemen Dan Neil and Tom Nalen ranked fourth and ninth, and safety Kenoy Kennedy ranked seventh.

Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has repeatedly defended the tactics of his offensive line.

Bengals tackle John Thornton called Foster's block cheap and unnecessary.

"No question. No doubt," Thornton told Cincinnati reporters. "(Foster) is 6-6, 325. This is the NFL. You don't block a guy low on the ankle like that. You could have blocked him high, and Tony was nowhere near the play. He was 5, 10 yards away. That's how they play. They put out a lot of guys like that."

Foster denied after the game that he took a cheap shot, and said the Bengals' linemen sought revenge.

"I got a lot of extra knees in the pile the rest of the game," Foster said. "I was just happy to get out of there. I thought they were going to come after me."

The league has come after the Broncos in the past. Three years ago, Lepsis used a block that broke the ankle of San Diego defensive lineman Maa Tanuvasa, a former teammate of Lepsis'. The hit cost Tanuvasa his season and Lepsis a $15,000 fine.


Blocks by Broncos offensive linemen have ended a number of players' seasons in recent years:

Oct. 25, 2004: Cincinnati defensive tackle Tony Williams suffered a broken ankle when cut block by Broncos right tackle George Foster.

Sept. 19, 2004: Jacksonville defensive end Paul Spicer suffered a broken leg on a low block by Broncos left tackle Matt Lepsis.

Dec. 1, 2002: San Diego defensive tackle Jamal Williams suffered a dislocated ankle when blocked from behind by Broncos guard Steve Herndon.

Oct. 28, 2001: New England linebacker Bryan Cox suffered a broken leg on a play involving Broncos right guard Dan Neil. Cox said he was clipped in the back of his leg by Neil; Neil denied hitting Cox.

Oct. 21, 2001: San Diego defensive lineman Maa Tanuvasa suffered a broken ankle on a cut block by Lepsis.

Earlier that season, Neil was fined $52,941.18 - the equivalent of one game check - for two leg whips against the Oakland Raiders in a Monday night game. That same season, Neil was fined $15,000 for what the NFL said was an illegal clip on New England Patriots linebacker Bryan Cox. Neil said he never touched Cox, but Cox fell awkwardly and broke his leg.

After Tanuvasa's injury, Chargers offensive line coach Joe Bugel, now the assistant head coach in Washington, said he didn't agree with the Broncos' blocking techniques.

"I've been in the league 27 years now, and from the first year to this year I've never taught a block below the waist," Bugel said at the time. "I think the integrity of the game is, if you're an offensive lineman, you block above the waist, you block on your numbers, you block on the hips - but you don't block anybody's knees."


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