Today the Jets concluded that Sal Alosi was acting alone when he instructed players to form a wall along the sideline. It was from this formation that Alosi tripped Miami's Nolan Carroll. Do we believe the single-tripper theory? Tinfoil hats on.
Initially, everyone assumed Alosi acted alone. But the line of Jets players and coaches looked far too uniform, and far too close to the field to be coincidental. Speculation focused on an order from above: Mike Westhoff? Rex Ryan? Higher up?
GM Mike Tannenbaum announced on a conference call today that the order to line up came directly from Alosi. As a result, his suspension was extended indefinitely, and the investigation is over. The Jets and the league consider it closed, but the question remains: would a strength and conditioning coach really have the ambition and wherewithal to make this happen on his own?
The answer is an unequivocal yes. And, what's more, it probably would have happened anyway even without Alosi giving the orders.
The advantages of such a formation are obvious. Gunners are players on the kicking team who attempt to outflank the blockers. This means going down the sidelines, or, regularly, out-of-bounds. By putting a wall of players as close as legally possible to the playing field, it limits the latitude the speedier gunner has to get around the blocker.
So why are the Jets the only team to do this? They're not. We spoke to one former NFLer who made stops with three teams, and he says each one pulled the exact same stunt. Inactive players would crowd the sidelines to funnel the gunners inward. "Not on every punt, to avoid being too obvious." But in key situations, like late, close games or when field position was crucial.
Even more interesting is the player's contention that no one ever had to tell him or the other players about forming the wall, but rather "it was just something that everyone knew how to do." The decision when to do it would come from a coach or respected player, but the actual tactic itself is a piece of institutional memory, passed vertically through the years, and horizontally from team to team, to the point where no one knows where and when it might have started.
So we tend to believe the Jets when they say that the orders didn't come from the top, and that on Sunday, Sal Alosi told the players to do it in that specific instance. What's more, lining up just off of the sideline white paint, and just past the 32-yard line, is perfectly within the rules, if just barely.
The only illegal part was leaning out over the field of play to trip Carroll. That's why Alosi is suspended. That, and drawing attention to a tactic used throughout the league, one everyone would rather pretend doesn't exist.