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Serious bodily harm is legal

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It would be fair to say that during the first one-on-one I ever did against an offensive lineman in Winnipeg, in 2001, I tried to break a player’s arm.

I clubbed his shoulder and threw a rip move and got it caught up under his left arm. His reaction was to put his left hand on my throat and his right hand on my hip to wash me wide of the pocket. The counter-move I had been taught for this pass block was to use my free right arm as a club and to bring it down as violently as possible onto his forearm. It didn’t break anything (he did miss the following pre-season game) but if it had landed on the right part of the arm with the right velocity, it certainly could have.

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The point of that preamble is to demonstrate how many of the tactics, blocks and moves defensive and offensive linemen throw at each other are designed to do serious damage and are perfectly legal. For every arm that gets dislocated, there is a knee or ankle that gets blown out from a cut block, or an orbital bone that gets fractured from an eye-gouge (me, vis-a-vis Rob Lazeo in 2007).

Having watched the incident between defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell and offensive guard Simeon Rottier countless times now, which took place in the B.C./Edmonton game last Friday, I can understand the condemnation. Khaliff traps Rottier’s arm against his body and rotates with such velocity that Simeon was fortunate to not have his arm broken.

Yet when I look at this play, I also see an entirely avoidable situation that Rottier could have avoided. I see a defensive lineman reacting badly after an inability to separate and shed an illegal hold and block the officials did not call. What Khaliff Mitchell did to Simeon Rottier’s elbow joint was certainly deplorable, but the fact remains that Rottier’s hand and arm should not have been where they were, illegally clinging to Khaliff’s jersey that was turned away from him.

You may or may not remember our game last year in Toronto against the Argonauts on Sept. 24. The team had seven players go down with injuries and we lost the game by one point, but that is not the point of this reference.

On the play in which I injured my shoulder, the Toronto Argonauts had rotated in No. 66, Jonathon St-Pierre, to work against me. He gave me a run read off the snap, we fitted up, I extended my arms to separate, and then worked to shed him and flow to the football like all defensive linemen are taught. The problem was St-Pierre, only in the game for spot duty and not a regular starter, was determined to not relinquish his hold on my jersey come hell or high water — just like Rottier on Mitchell’s jersey — as I’m sure he didn’t want me making a tackle against him during his limited time.

The general rule on sustaining run blocks in the CFL is you can only clutch and grab what you are squared up to, and when your hands are on the inside of breastplate of the shoulder pads. When a defender creates enough space to move off of you and begins pursuing the football, you cannot continue to maul and hold him from his angle of departure. Since my time in the trenches has taught me you can’t depend on a holding call in this scenario, defenders have one of two options. Either hammer away at the offensive lineman’s arms that are clinging to you, or spin away from him towards the football, which usually forces him to relinquish his grip.

In this instance, I spun away from the hold and the player lost his balance. He should have let me go at that point, but he didn’t and pulled me down with him. The full weight of my body landed on my bent arm on the turf, and due to the force of my humerus bone being rammed up into my shoulder socket, the bursa sac exploded. Initially, the doctors thought I had torn my rotator cuff and had played the final game of my career, but it was an injury that caused me to miss a game and something that affected me for the rest of the season. Once again, no flag was thrown for holding on the play.

There is no question Khaliff Mitchell overreacted to the situation he found himself in last Friday. But when offensive linemen have no fear of being penalized for illegally mauling and clutching defenders that have already turned and broken away from them, reactions of this nature will become more frequent and commonplace.

 

Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and game days in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 24, 2012 D3

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Updated on Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at 11:36 AM CDT: updates

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