Football Wedge Return
A wedge return in football is a play when, on a kick return, blockers escort the returner downfield in a wedge shape. Wedge returns are designed to cover large amounts of ground and make it more difficult for defenders to navigate their way through the blockers to tackle the ball carrier. There are generally three different layers within a wedge, each made up of a different group of positions.
Offensive linemen usually occupy the front portion of the wedge. Guards, center and tackles are best suited for the front of the wedge return due to their immense size and strength, allowing them to fend off members of the return team as they sprint down the field. Offensive linemen are also well versed in blocking techniques, enabling them to hold off pursuing defenders until the returner can find room to run and gain yards.
Fullbacks and tight ends are often used in the middle of the wedge. Much like offensive linemen, these players have lots of experience with blocking techniques when their team is on offense. (fullbacks block for the running back on run plays, while tight ends can be used as extra blockers on pass plays to protect the quarterback). One distinguishing characteristic is that fullbacks and tight ends tend to be far more agile than offensive linemen. Their quickness allows them to reach members of the kicking team that have managed to beat the front line and are quickly tracking towards the ball carrier.
The back of the wedge is composed of three players. Two of the three players, often referred to as "wings," represent the last line of defense and are responsible for protecting the ball carrier from defenders that manage to break through the wedge completely. The other player is the returner, tasked with catching the ball and trying to run for as many yards as possible. Wings and returners are usually members of the defensive secondary (cornerbacks and safeties) because they possess good hands and blazing speed.
What Makes the Wedge Return Effective?
The wedge return creates an army of blockers that is particularly hard for the kicking team to overcome. Once the ball is kicked, members of the receiving team converge towards the middle of the field, creating a lane for the returner to exploit. Defenders are in turn forced to start near the sidelines and gradually angle towards the middle of the field, making it much more difficult to tackle the ball carrier compared to a head-on, straight-line tackle.