Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid made local reporters do some extra research after he spoke to the press on Wednesday — when he was asked whether linebacker Ben Niemann would continue making defensive play-calls while starting MIKE linebacker Anthony Hitchens remains sidelined with an injury.
“All three of them will be in there going at different spots,” said Reid, referring to Niemann and fellow linebackers Willie Gay Jr. and Nick Bolton. “Spags (defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) has got a lot of different personnel groups in there, but all three of them can make the calls they need.”
The NFL first allowed defensive players to wear helmets with a green dot — that is, helmets equipped with radio receivers that enable coaches to speak to them from the sidelines — back in 2008. At that time, the league made it pretty clear that just two defensive players on each team would be allowed to wear these helmets — and that only one of them could be on the field at a given time.
So how would it be possible for all three Chiefs linebackers to be able to make play-calls?
After Reid spoke on Wednesday, some of us had discovered that many references still say that only two defensive players may have radio helmets. But in 2017, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had been asked about a similar situation with his defensive play-callers.
“By rule, we can have three guys, because the NFL acknowledges that a second-level defender wearing the green dot, whoever he may be, is not an all-situations player,” said Tomlin at the time, per Steelers.com. “Sometimes you may have a guy who stands in front of your huddle on first and second downs, and he’s a Vince Williams-type, and on third down you might have an oversized safety standing in front of your defense. We’ve never had those issues because of Ryan Shazier. He’s an all-situations player.”
But even though Tomlin had directly said that three players could have the helmets, his additional comments made it seem more cloudy. Besides... it was four years ago. A lot of things have changed in the last four NFL seasons.
So on Thursday, our Pete Sweeney asked Spagnuolo for clarification. And yes... up to three defensive players can have radio helmets.
“You can declare three guys that could possibly have — the earpiece, I’m going to call it; I don’t know what the technical terms are — [but] you can only have one of those guys out there at a time,” said Spagnuolo. “So when it ends up being Ben, he’s got to put that helmet on — and then he’s got to take it off.”
And yes... that means as many as three defensive players can each have two helmets on the sidelines — and things can sometimes get confusing. But there, the Chiefs have one of their aces-in-the-hole: equipment manager Allen Wright, who has been with the team since Marty Schottenheimer was prowling the sidelines.
“Allen does a great job for us on the sideline, to be quite honest with you,” noted Spagnuolo. “It’s not easy doing the helmets and what-not because you can only have one guy out with a tag on it at a time.”
But even when all else fails, Spagnuolo said they have an old-school backup.
“Sometimes we just yell to them — or signal or something.”