The sensation is indescribable, Andrew Sendejo says, a lot in order that when just lately requested to clarify the joys he will get from hitting one other human cleanly, with all his would possibly, he initially struggles to search out the phrases.
“Um … probably not,” the eighth-year security for the Minnesota Vikings says, after a number of seconds of contemplation. “You hear the gang go, ‘Ohhh,’ then you definately hear the sounds, your teammates cheering you, and dapping you up.”
The sensation is so intense that the following adrenaline rush masks the ache of impression that comes from the hit.
“It’s simply … it’s a very good damage, you understand,” Sendejo says, “since you have been the hammer versus the nail.”
Sendejo, 30, is among the NFL’s hardest hitters, a person who discovered his strategy to soccer after fouling out of seemingly each basketball sport and being red-carded in seemingly each soccer match as a youth. So sure, the person is an enforcer, within the truest sense of the phrase, and he’s the newest in an extended, proud lineage of big-hitting safeties who got here to outline the place over the previous 50 years.
All through the ’80s, 90s and 2000s, males lower from Sendejo’s ilk — suppose Ronnie Lott, John Lynch, Jack Tatum, Steve Atwater and most just lately, Sean Taylor — have been revered for the way in which they performed, with their aggression and punishing model usually altering the way in which offenses attacked, as they feared needlessly placing sometimes-squeamish ability gamers in hurt’s means.
Enforcers have been even celebrated by the league, which allowed NFL Movies to incorporate lots of these gamers’ greatest hits on numerous VHS tapes and DVDs over time, all of which solely cultivated a technology of followers who grew to become drawn to the sport on account of its brutality.
But, if the NFL has its means nowadays, males like Sendejo — who just lately wore a “Make Soccer Violent Once more” hat, regardless of his inherent dedication to play the sport the fitting means and throughout the guidelines — may additionally be the final of a dying breed.
For the higher a part of this decade, the NFL, nearly definitely spooked by the furor over concussions, has taken vital steps to make the sport much less violent, culminating with the passage of the brand new lowering-of-the-helmet rule in March, which permits for ejections if an official decides a participant, offensive or defensive, lowered his head upon contact when he didn’t should.
The rule has been met with widespread disdain from gamers, followers, coaches and media alike. Amid the backlash, which has stemmed from some questionable penalties on normal-looking hits this preseason, the NFL’s competitors committee revisited the rule, in the end saying on Aug. 22 that nothing would change.
But, not everyone seems to be satisfied that’s a nasty factor, or perhaps a loss of life knell for the enforcers of the world. That features one infamous huge hitter from the previous, probably the most fined participant in NFL historical past whose excellent “A Soccer Life” episode included a very stirring montage from his taking part in days through which he used the phrase “Hit ’em within the mouth” 4 occasions in an eight-second span.
This man, NBC soccer analyst and former All-Professional security Rodney Harrison, says the title of “enforcer” is evolving, not dying, and he’s flat-out glad it’s occurring.
“I get it,” Harrison just lately advised Yahoo Sports activities. “I fully get it.”
How the rule is opening up offenses
Harrison, 45, has been retired for 10 years now, and the sport has modified considerably. The way in which he performed was epically captured throughout the comply with sequence of his “A Soccer Life” episode, when he talked about his mentality when he stepped between the white strains.
“Yeah, you possibly can have respect for that opponent,” Harrison mentioned. “However on the similar time, you’ve acquired to hit that opponent within the mouth.”
(Cue a flashback to Harrison in a San Diego Chargers jersey.)
“Large sport right now. Bodily. Hit ’em proper within the mouth.”
(Cue one other Harrison flashback.)
“We gon’ hit ’em proper within the mouth.”
(Cue one other Harrison flashback.)
“Hit ’em onerous, hit ’em proper within the mouth.”
That was the way in which Harrison and others performed. Intention on the receiver’s chin, run by means of the person, ship the blow. Arise, hover over them and discuss trash. Do this lengthy sufficient, as Harrison did, and earlier than lengthy, quarterbacks and coordinators cease calling the deep digs, submit and crossing routes that may gouge a protection, all due to the menace the fumble-forcing, injury-inducing hitter offered.
“It was a mentality, a weapon, if you had bodily guys that would intimidate,” Harrison defined. “However now, that intimidation issue has type of gone away.”
Harrison can inform, simply by watching a spat of preseason video games. Over the previous month, he has seen a number of huge hitters sort out with somewhat extra trepidation, all as a result of they don’t need to be flagged.
“What I additionally see is guys considering, ‘OK, did I hit him OK? Nearly like [they’re] second-guessing themselves,” he added.
The flip aspect to that, Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards mentioned, is that he has observed offenses changing into extra aggressive over time, as quarterbacks now appear to be extra vulnerable to throw into sure coverages in the midst of the sector.
“Each time the defenseless receiver comes into [your zone], it permits [offenses] to try throws they normally wouldn’t again within the day as a result of when he got here throughout that center, the response by that defensive again was going to be extra violent,” Edwards mentioned.
“I do imagine you’re going to see receivers put up extra huge numbers as a result of these guys that have been scary cats — like we [used to] name them — that got here throughout the center, offenses know that they don’t have to fret a few man actually hitting them and being an enforcer,” Harrison mentioned.
And as you may think, he doesn’t love that.
“I believe physicality is one thing that actually made the NFL particular, and I can see the frustration by a whole lot of followers and gamers,” Harrison mentioned. “However these days of the massive, bodily man that’s intimidating, that scares you to come back throughout the center, these days are gone.”
A protection of the brand new rule, from an unlikely supply
In an attention-grabbing twist, Harrison is sweet with that trade-off. As a lot satisfaction as he takes in the way in which he performed, he says the NFL is doing younger gamers a favor.
“Once you’re 25 and 30 years previous, you’ve this mentality [of], ‘I’m younger, and powerful, I’m invincible,’” Harrison defined. “However if you get [to be] my age, and also you’re 10 years faraway from the Nationwide Soccer League, and also you get up and also you begin feeling type of dizzy or [you’re] having an off day, my head is bothering me, you get it, you perceive what the NFL is making an attempt to do.”
Harrison isn’t saying the NFL is making these modifications as a result of it sincerely cares concerning the gamers; that a lot he made clear. However he needs gamers to have a powerful high quality of life once they attain his age.
“Completely I assist it,” Harrison mentioned, when requested straight if he helps the rule. “I completely, completely get it … making tens of millions, profitable Tremendous Bowls, being an All-Professional, that doesn’t matter when you don’t have the standard of life, when you’re waking up and also you’re not feeling good.
“I golf with guys which have head accidents … and it’s no enjoyable seeing a few of your buddies battle.”
Harrison reconciles the conflicting duality of his beliefs — that he misses old-school hitting, however understands why issues should change — by making a convincing case that soccer can nonetheless be enjoyable with out a few of the vicious, helmet-leading hits he and so many others constructed their careers on.
For one, he thinks followers who miss these hits can nonetheless take pleasure in soccer because the athleticism of right now’s gamers far exceeds these from his day.
“You take a look at the dimensions and athleticism of Julio Jones, Odell Beckham, Antonio Brown, the kind of catches they make, these guys are simply freak athletes,” Harrison mentioned.
He’s not offered that the helmet rule will fully remove enforcers from the sport, and he’s not alone, on that entrance as each Edwards and Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Teryl Austin agreed that there’s nonetheless a necessity for bodily safeties.
“Large hitters are highly effective and might uncork on you, however they don’t have to steer with their helmets — they’ll hit with their shoulder pads,” Austin mentioned.
He even chuckled on the notion of the enforcer dying, including that having sturdy tacklers at security continues to be an “extraordinarily” essential a part of taking part in protection.
“In our protection, I desire a security that, when push involves shove, I can put him down within the field and he’s going to make one thing occur,” Austin mentioned. “If there’s anyone coming throughout the center and he has a chance to hit cleanly and with drive, I need him in there.”
Evolution is coming, and shortly
There’s little doubt evolution is coming to the security place. Groups are throwing greater than ever, and if Harrison performed right now, he believes he’d be identified extra for his underrated protection expertise than his hard-hitting.
That mentioned, he says the following prototype of enforcer safeties can be versatile, athletic and powerful gamers who can blitz, neutralize athletic tight ends in protection and canopy on the again finish. Consider the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs’ Eric Berry, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins, the Seattle Seahawks’ Earl Thomas and Los Angeles Chargers’ Derwin James, he added.
“You’ll see extra athletic freaks, extra corners transferring to security,” Harrison mentioned. “It’s going to be a man that’s good, a man that may play a number of positions.”
And whereas receivers can function throughout the center with extra freedom, they received’t be operating with impunity. As defensive gamers adapt to the rule, there’s an actual probability extra ability gamers get lower-body accidents as defenders decide to goal decrease in lieu of risking a penalty.
“Anyone that got here throughout the center, I wouldn’t even take into consideration hitting him within the head or neck and even shoulders,” Harrison mentioned. “Every little thing could be centered from their core, proper round to their knees.”
In addition to, on the finish of the day, there’s nonetheless loads of NFL gamers with an old-school mentality. Outdated habits die onerous, and modifications like this don’t occur in a single day.
Sendejo, for one, says gamers will do their greatest to play by the principles, although they’ll nonetheless be centered totally on doing their jobs.
“I positively suppose it’s going to have an effect on some guys somewhat bit, so far as how they sort out,” Sendejo mentioned. “However when you’re a bodily participant, you’re not simply going to lose that as a result of you must take your head out of it — you’re nonetheless going to be bodily, by nature.
“So I believe these guys on each staff are nonetheless going to exist.”
This implies there’ll nonetheless be loads of soccer gamers across the league who stay for the joys of crashing into one other man in entrance of 70,000 roaring followers, although admittedly, every huge hit would possibly now be adopted with anxiousness afterward, as they look on the refs and hope the yellow flag doesn’t come bounding out of their hand.
“In case you get a very good, clear hit with the brand new guidelines … and there’s no penalty, [you’ll] simply be grateful,” Sendejo mentioned.
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