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Listen up, NFL defenders: Helmet radios are here

TAMPA — Barrett Ruud doesn't like the chatter. He'd rather spend the seconds before the snap surveying the line of scrimmage for targets.

But there's that voice in his head this year, of Bucs linebackers coach Gus Bradley. As the middle linebacker, Ruud wears a helmet with a radio connection to the bench and relays the play call to his 10 teammates. It's one more step for a negligible benefit, he said.

"The only thing it does, is it's another way to get the signal communicated from the sideline," Ruud said. "I honestly don't want them saying a bunch of stuff in my ear. When they start saying too much, you start thinking and you forget about reading your keys and stuff. It's solely a means to get the play in, which is what it's supposed to be."

This season the NFL, for the first time, allows one defensive player on the field a direct line of communication to the bench. Quarterbacks have used a similar system since 1994. Two players on each team, one designated as a "primary," will wear radio-enabled helmets. The backup helmet will be locked in a trunk on the sideline and must be signed out from the league office each week. As with quarterback helmets, it will be identified with a green sticker. Any player at any position can be designated the radio-user.

Communications become active from the start of the play clock and cease with 15 seconds remaining or at the snap of the ball. An encryption system with 268-million frequency codes will ensure security.

And so the games begin, though Ruud said the new system is tough to exploit to anyone's advantage.

"(The offense) can (break the huddle) late if they want to, but then they have to hurry up themselves and have less time to adjust to us," he said. "Even if they hold the personnel so we can't get the radio working, they have to say their play, so their radio is cut off too so they can't talk, 'Hey, they're running this defense.' Even if they decide to wait, we can signal in and they won't know what signal it is."

Of course, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin thinks his offensive counterparts will find some rule book loophole to exploit.

"I think the offense has an advantage in everything they do," he said, "because all the rules are set for the offense."

Because the Bucs rarely change their base defense, implementing the system has been fairly painless, Ruud said. Teams like the Patriots have had a tougher time because they substitute liberally and don't have a single player at middle linebacker through most of the game.

Bradley said the only major problem the Bucs have had in preseason was when the radio-helmeted Antoine Cash and Matt McCoy were to switch places at middle linebacker after a kickoff.

"Both needed to come to the sideline at the same time, they need to go to a box, get two helmets, check them out, switch the helmets. Are they going to give you time to do that? The answer is no," Bradley said, noting that the problem, though unlikely in the regular season, was eased by a television timeout.

Bradley said the Bucs likely will use hand signals and wristbands also, especially in no-huddle situations. He said radio will augment, not replace, traditional methods, which have been practiced at a quicker pace this preseason.

"It's a little bit easier when you get the call in right because you don't have to look at signals or wristbands," Ruud said. "I like it, but I don't think there is a huge advantage to it."

Listen up, NFL defenders: Helmet radios are here 09/02/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 4, 2008 9:49am]
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