Now that the the Jets have suspended strength coach Sal Alosi, declaring that there’s no place in football for what he did but nevertheless saving a place for him, um, in football, the question becomes whether and to what extent the six-man formation that was positioned on the edge of the white stripe that lines the field with a punt return set up toward that side of the field was: (1) spontaneous and coincidental; or (2) premeditated and orchestrated.
So we asked NFL spokesman Greg Aiello whether the league is investigating the situation. His answer?
Aiello also said that executive V.P. of football operations Ray Anderson is “reviewing the issue of sideline protocols from a leaguewide perspective.” We interpret that to mean Anderson won’t be trying to find out whether and to what extent the Jets and other teams are deliberately placing personnel and/or inactive players in position to impede the players trying to get down the field to cover punts, often called “gunners” or “flyers”.
As Aiello told us last night, there’s no rule that pertains to this situation. “Obviously, players and staff stand on the sideline,” Aiello said. “But Ray Anderson and his staff are reviewing the overall issue.”
Even if there’s no specific “thou shalt not” provision on the books, we think that this kind of deliberate action goes to the integrity of the game, and that perhaps an express rule prohibiting this conduct shouldn’t be needed in order to let people know it’s wrong to intentionally try to impede players who at times end up playing out of bounds.
In this regard, the league could be implementing one of the lessons learned in Spygate — that the Patriots possibly weren’t the only team videotaping defensive coaching signals. Indeed, why haven’t the Dolphins complained about the possibility that the Alosi alignment was coached? It could be that the Dolphins either do the same thing now, or that the Dolphins did it when Jets special-teams coordinator Mike Westhoff worked in Miami from 1986 through 2000.
We’re not saying the Dolphins are guilty of anything; we’re saying only that this could be why the Dolphins aren’t demanding an investigation. As we understand it, the practice isn’t unprecedented. We’re told that, in some cities, veteran special-teams players coordinate the placement of coaches and inactive players on the edge of the sideline during punts, which gives the coaching staff plausible deniability if/when the gunner ever hits the fan.
In New York, coach Rex Ryan said that he didn’t coach the move (even though he apparently was standing close to the group of men who apparently were lined up to limit Nolan Carroll’s ability to use the sideline to create a path to the punt returner). Ryan didn’t speak for Westhoff. That’s the guy that the league should be talking to — and if the league isn’t interested in talking to Westhoff, the media should be.