SZVETITZ: Stopping no-huddle offenses on the field should be the concern

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Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2013 1:00 pm

HOOVER — Les Miles, in all his infinite wisdom and candor, summed up the no-huddle/player safety argument the best.

As only he can.

“I think fast-paced offenses definitely pose a threat to defenses,” he said Thursday at SEC Media Days. “I think slow-paced offenses pose a threat to defenses.”

Sure, Miles was talking more about scheme than safety, but think about it for a second. Playing 100 snaps or 10, a good offense is a good offense. Tempo just makes it happen faster.

Look, football is a violent game. A player can get hurt anywhere, anytime. It doesn’t matter if the offense is huddling or not, when you start throwing 200-, 300-pound bodies around, something’s got to give.

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema believes in his argument that fatigued players are more susceptible to injury. Leave them out on the field too long, running that hard, that quickly, there’s a potential for serious damage.

“You cannot tell me that a player after Play 5 is the same player that he is after Play 15,” Bielema said.

Sure, that makes sense. On its face, Bielema might have a great argument. Yes, tired players aren’t the same as if they were fresh. They move slower, reaction time is delayed. That’s true for any sport.

But then you realize that this is football we’re talking about — football in the SEC.

Everyone’s at risk. Fast or slow offenses have nothing to do with it. The laws of physics do.

And it’s not like a pro-style, “normal American football” (as Bielema called it) offense doesn’t wear out a defense either.

Look at Alabama. I’m pretty sure having last year’s offensive line hit you in the mouth 50-60 times a game makes a defensive player a high-risk candidate for injury.

Wednesday, Gus Malzahn said when he first heard the argument, he thought it was a joke.

“If it’s a safety issue, then defenses don’t need to blitz after a first down, because there’s going to be a collision and they’ll be fatigued,” Malzahn said.

Of course, Malzahn was being facetious. But the point is clear: It’s football. There’s a tired player hitting a tired player every single play.

By the way, when’s the last time a hurry-up, no-huddle team had a multiple 15-play drives in a game? Honestly?

And believe it or not, there are times you can rest players.

“We all play on national TV,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. “Our TV timeouts are … three, four minutes. Seems like there’s plenty of time to rest between series.”

That’s one way to rest.

Oh, and here’s another: Make stops.

You want to slow down the no-huddle? Get off the field.

It’s pretty simple, really.

“I personally think it’s the defense’s responsibility to get off the field,” Richt said. “They’re allowed to go three-and-out and get rest.”

That’s true. And it comes down to preparation and execution.

Alabama’s Nick Saban said it’s his goal in the offseason to figure out the no-huddle, up-tempo offenses to defend them better.

He also said two questions need to be asked when it comes to those schemes: Should football be a continuous game — was it “designed” that way? — and does an increased number of plays create safety issues?

“They play 64 plays a game in the NFL. We play over 80 in college. The up-tempo teams play more than that,” Saban said. “The cumulative effect of that is a player is playing 25, 30 more plays a game. Is there any safety issues in that?”

Legitimate question, and it’s a better argument than Bielema’s.

Making the game safer is — and should be — a priority. The new targeting rule is an example — necessary legislation that will cut down on injuries.

But we’re still talking about football. It’s a violent game. Every player is at risk any time, no matter what kind of system you run.

The goal should be figuring a way to stop these offenses on the field.

Mike Szvetitz is sports editor of the Opelika-Auburn News. He may be reached at mszvetitz@oanow.com or 737-2513.

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