The narrative around Marquise Blair’s thumping hit against the Denver Broncos must change. As a coach who teaches heads up tackling and is qualified in the USA Heads Up Football course, I like to think I know how to teach safe, hard-hitting tackles.
Take this excerpt from my article last preseason, entitled “Seattle showing the NFL how to hit”:
“The USA Football Heads Up program has become the recommended coaching practice for teams across the nation. It is based in shoulder contact tackling that emphasizes keeping the head up and out of the way in the tackle.
Combined with the two excellent Seahawks videos on their tackling technique, you can see how it is very possible to still deliver a nasty hit in a rugby style. It is an adjustment for players, given how often stuff like “get your helmet on the ball” is stressed by coaches, but once comfortable with the technique you can still rock guys—in a much safer style too.
I urge you to check them out:
When Drew Lock threw late down the seam; Blair must have got giddy with hitting excitement. Seattle sent nickel pressure against the motion to empty and Blair made a great read from the Middle of the Field. This was the rookie’s chance to show up big in his first preseason game. Blair did almost everything right. His aiming point was legal and he targeted the receiver’s chest with a shoulder strike. His head was up too.
As Seahawks analyst Brock Huard commented: “And you know what, Drew Lock...that’s on you too pal. As a quarterback to hold the ball like that and throw it late down the middle, where you know a single safety is lurking, you bear some of that responsibility as well.”
The one thing Blair did not do successfully was lead with the correct shoulder. A coaching buzz word I frequently use is “near foot, near shoulder.” At the moment Blair decided to contact the receiver with his right shoulder, he was forced to try and turn his body—and head—away from the receiver.
Marquise Blair far shoulder strike pic.twitter.com/3oL51UV1Jc— Ultra Rare Tape (@UltraRareTape) August 9, 2019
This was noticeable in the immediate reaction to the hit:
Marquise Blair nearly got that technique right. Trying to turn to get near foot, near shoulder. Trying to get the helmet out of the way. He's NOT led with his helmet.— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) August 9, 2019
Near foot, near shoulder. Should hit with the left shoulder not right. Get your head to the other side of the receiver rather than trying to turn your right shoulder and head— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) August 9, 2019
The defenceless aspect is virtually impossible because if you don't hit the receiver you are blown past. https://t.co/lP5gYwqiW2
For Blair to have ensured his head was not in the way of contact, he should have led with his near shoulder, the left shoulder, and taken the last step with his near foot, the left foot. This would have seen Blair’s helmet go behind the receiver and be totally away from any possible contact.
Though the majority of Blair’s contact was made with the “shoulder strike” that Seattle is looking for (you can see him reenact this as the laundry flies), Blair’s helmet was involved in the contact as he was not able to fully turn his right shoulder into being the near shoulder. First and foremost: this can be dangerous for Blair. But it also led to the officials calling the penalty they did.
Secondary contact was made via Blair’s helmet as it whacked the face cage of the receiver. The officials called “Personal Foul, Unnecessary Roughness, 15 yard penalty, automatic first down.” This was contact in the illegal head and neck area of the receiver.
The referees DID NOT say this was a defenseless receiver penalty—even if play-by-play announcer Curt Menefee assumed that in the immediate aftermath. The defenseless receiver rule is tough anyway because it punishes sound positioning from defenders and can cause hesitation and total whiffs.
It’s a highly subjective call—“If the player is capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact of an opponent, he is no longer a defenseless player”—and as far as the crew was concerned the hit from Blair was fair in that sense.
It’s therefore disappointing to see sections of Twitter so heavily criticize and bemoan Blair’s hit. Brock Huard’s comments on the broadcast also frustrated.
“Is the coaching point to hit him lower? Is the coaching point not to hit him at all? I think those are the fair discussions that player and coach have tomorrow.”
The coaching point is near foot, near shoulder.
“I’m still sitting up here a little undecided. I want Marquise Blair, if I’m a Seahawk fan and a teammate, I want him to bring the hammer. That’s why he was drafted.”
“This league is going to protect defenseless players, they have made that abundantly clear.”
The officials didn’t mention a defenseless receiver.
“Honestly, what is the conversation tomorrow? What do you do as a teaching point on a play like that up the seam?”
Near foot, near shoulder.
“They would tell you, Kam Chancellor had to learn how to hit. Right? He had to learn how to take his head out of it and change his strike zone to hit so I guess for Marquise Blair if he hits that receiver, if he just hits him a foot lower, you’re good? Or is it because he’s defenceless and his young rookie quarterback throws him an ambulance ball?”
Near foot, near shoulder.
Blair’s contact was full of the right intentions and technique; a subtle tweak to it—near foot, near shoulder—should see him become one of the hardest, legal hitters in the NFL. Nothing reflected Blair’s correct goals better than the officials reviewing it for disqualification and subsequently confirming that Blair could stay in the game—because he aimed for shoulder contact at the chest area of the receiver. That’s why it didn’t qualify for the below, as Blair initiated contact with his shoulder:
“It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. Contact does not have to be to an opponent’s head or neck area – lowering the head and initiating contact to an opponent’s torso, hips, and lower body, is also a foul. Violations of the rule will be easier to see and officiate when they occur in open space – as opposed to close line play – but this rule applies anywhere on the field at any time.”
In his post-game press conference, Pete Carroll’s comments agreed with my initial takeaways. The Head Coach also confirmed that the issue for the officials wasn’t a defenseless receiver; it was Blair leading with the wrong shoulder and therefore getting his helmet involved.
“The league did take a look at the hit and they ruled that it wasn’t the kind that would get him kicked out of the game or whatever.”
“We were very close to doing that exactly right. On that hit, so that you can learn as you go, that’s really a left shoulder hit for him coming in on it. He chose to hit with his right shoulder so it places his helmet into the position in question.”
“To make it so they can’t call the penalty on it, you hit it with your left shoulder so that your helmet is not even in front of the receiver. We didn’t quite get that done right. But it still was an excellent effort of what we’re trying to do; get the head out of our game. So we’ll get better, he’ll learn and we’ll grow from there.”
If there is something to properly knock Blair for it would be his ad-libbing that vacated his flat coverage versus the play-action bootleg that saw Denver pick up 27 yards. Blair’s penalty on the hit though should be regarded as a rookie player trying to hone his technique in the preseason. And he only just got it wrong. The 2nd round pick had a fun game showing off his nose for the football, speed and range. As Carroll said “he’s a ballplayer.”