Pitt defenders prepare for Navy's cut blocking
By John Grupp
Published: Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009
As future servicemen for our nation, the Naval Academy football players are given well-earned respect from their opponents.
Until they go low.
"It's terrible," Pitt defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said. "It is a brutal offense for guys on their legs."
To compensate for smallish offense lineman, Navy does a lot of cut blocking as part of its triple-option attack.
Pitt defensive linemen and linebackers can expect Navy blockers to go low and try to take out their legs when the Midshipmen (1-1) visit the Panthers (2-0) at 6 p.m. tonight at Heinz Field.
"The worst part is they cut a lot," Pitt outside linebacker Greg Williams said. "That's going to be a big challenge. Last year, I didn't get cut too much. This year, they might be looking to cut me a lot more. You have to be ready."
Cut blocking is legal in NCAA football as long as it's within five yards of the line of scrimmage and within the tackle box. Blockers can't come from behind and two blockers can't engage a defender at the same time, which is chop blocking.
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo admitted earlier this year that a lot of opponents don't like the way they play -- even if it's legal -- but the technique allows Navy to block bigger players.
The Midshipmen's biggest offensive lineman weighs 267 pounds. By comparison, Pitt averages 293 on its offensive line and 274 on its defensive front.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said the cut blocking on the defensive line doesn't bother him. He does, however, have a problem when a slot back loops around and takes out the legs of an unsuspecting linebacker.
"The middle linebacker is looking in the backfield at the tailback or their quarterbacks," he said. "That's what concerns me. In my opinion that's a lot more dangerous than the line chopping when a guy is lined up right in front of you. We can deal with that.
"Anytime you are trying to block somebody's outside leg, there is a risk of danger."
Pitt simulated cutting at practice this week, but had to temper the drill to avoid possible injury. Middle linebacker Adam Gunn and outside linebackers Max Gruder and Williams will need to be extra alert for low-flying Midshipmen.
"If they've got slot-backs within five yards and your backer is an inside backer, they can mow him," Bennett said.
The cut blocks are effective. It is the style used by the Denver Broncos to produce a string of 1,000-yard rushers -- and draw criticism that they play dirty.
The technique can compromise a defender because he is looking around to protect his legs instead of following the ball carrier.
"It does (get in your head)," Wannstedt said. "You get more concerned about defeating the block and all of a sudden the ball carrier or the quarterback runs right by you."
The cut blocks affect opposing players physically as well. Ohio State defensive tackle Dexter Larimore sat out a couple of practices after the Sept. 5 Navy game because his legs were sore. The Buckeye coaches also limited the playing time of another defender who was coming off knee surgery.Additional Information:
PITT (2-0) vs. NAVY (1-1)
When: 6 p.m. today
Where: Heinz Field
TV: The game will not be televised
Radio: 3WS 94.5 (WWSW-FM), Fox Sports Radio 970 (WBGG-AM), Pittsburgh ISP Sports Network
Internet: ESPN360.com (free for Comcast high-speed Internet subscribers).
Series: Pitt leads the series, 21-13-3, including a 42-21 win at Navy last year.
Coaches: Dave Wannstedt (fifth season at Pitt, 27-23); Ken Niumatalolo (second season at Navy, 9-7)
Line: Pitt by 7 1/2
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