An illegal wedge penalty in American football is called on blockers when two or more of them line up in a "wedge" blocking formation, typically within two yards of each other connected by the arm, in an attempt to protect their ball carrier from being tackled by defenders on the opposing team. The rule was implemented in the game mostly in an attempt to reduce risk of injury during, the already very dangerous, kickoffs.
Wedge blocks are an effective way for return teams on kickoffs to contain and reduce the number of open lanes, or pathways, that are possible for defenders to take to get to, and tackle, the ball carrier on the kickoff return. A wedge block is formed when two or more players purposefully line up two yards or less apart and link themselves together, either by locking arms or holding hands, effectively creating a wall, in an attempt to block for the returner.
Because of the effectiveness of this type of block and its widespread use within the football playing community, it became common strategy among football teams to send a player, known as a "wedge-buster," running full speed downfield during kickoff with the sole intention of generating as much force as possible on impact to disrupt and destroy the wedge formation. This increased the number of high speed collisions happening during kickoff, a play already notorious as being the most dangerous play in football. It also greatly increases the risk of arm and shoulder injuries for players participating in the block because of the way that the players link themselves together.
In 2009, coming to the conclusion that too many players were being injured while colliding and/or participating in a wedge block, the NFL's owners came together to ban the formation from use starting in the 2009 season. College football soon followed suit in their 2010 season as well in an attempt to reduce the amounts of injuries sustained during kickoff. No actual contact must be made for the foul to be called on a group of blockers. The simple act of forming the wedge with the intention to block is enough to warrant a penalty.
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The result of an illegal wedge penalty, in leagues that recognize it, is 15 yards.
When wedges and interlocking are called, referees use a pushing movement of their hands to the front with their arms downward and palms forward.