Tatupu on radio headset: 'I hate it'

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Judy Battista of the New York Times takes a listen inside radio headsets worn by defensive players beginning this season. Bills linebacker Paul Posluszny calls the process more efficient than checking a wristband. But a slight delay can lead to confusion.

I've wondered whether the in-helmet transmitters might negatively affect an instinctive player such as Seattle's Lofa Tatupu. The three-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker calls the radio system "cheating" and says he would remove the device if a coach barked into his ear too frequently.

Linebackers coach Zerick Rollins, positioned on the sideline, does relay play calls to Tatupu after getting them from defensive coordinator John Marshall, who watches from the pressbox. Rollins keeps his comments to a minimum.

Tatupu also shed light on which teammates help him diagnose personnel and down-and-distance on the fly. A full transcript of our conversation follows:

Mike Sando: As an instinctive football player who knows how to play football, who doesn't play like a robot, are you ever going to like the thing in your ear?

Lofa Tatupu: I hate it.

Sando: Are you using it now?

LT: Yeah, but luckily, I guess some d-coordinators are like telling players what to look for. He leaves me alone. 'Z' leaves me alone. I told him, 'As soon as you start trying to tell me what's coming, I'm going to take it out of my headset.' Because that is cheating.

Sando: How does it work? What does he do now? He tells you the play that way?

LT: 'It's an over front.' Then he'll cut it off.

Sando: So it's very quick.

LT: Yeah.

Sando: You do not want anybody telling you to look for something.

LT: It's cheating.

Sando: It's a legal advantage. It's not technically cheating.

LT: It is cheating.

Sando: Does it take away from how you play the game?

LT: No, because he lets me do my thing.

Sando: If he were in your ear constantly, then it would detract?

LT: Yeah, absolutely, because then you are like, 'All right, he wants me to look for this run or this pass play.' And it's like, 'Aaaaaah.' In the meantime you are missing what maybe you would have thought in your head. I'm not saying I think the game better than a coach, but when you are on the field, you get a little different feel for it than the guy in the booth.

Sando: Your strength seems to be anticipating, having a feel.

LT: It's really not that hard. The team will come out and give you certain formations. We have already studied what is coming out of a formation. OK, maybe they run something different. If they have success, they are going to run it again sometime during the game. They might get to the formation a different way, or however they do it, but they are going to run it again.

Sando: Are you talking about formation or personnel or both?

LT: Both. Formation, personnel, down and distance, all of it.

Sando: And there are only so many personnel groups. You recognize it before they break the huddle.

LT: Yeah, Leroy [Hill] gives it to me. Leroy and Brian Russell give it to me. Leroy gives me down and distance. Brian gives me personnel and then I get the play from the sideline.

Sando: On personnel, do they use the same terminology your offensive guys use?

LT: No. We have all different types. Two tight ends is Ace. They call it Tiger. Two backs, one receiver and two tight ends is 22. In college we called it all by numbers. Number of backs, then number of tight ends. One back and two tight ends is 12. Twenty-one is two backs and one tight end.

Sando: Terminology is the biggest barrier for people understanding the game.

LT: Everyone wants to put their own stamp on it. We're all running the same stuff. Quit changing it!