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Another look at last year's chop block controversy

Virginia Tech defensive tackle John Graves is not one to create headlines, so he paused and thought long and hard when asked Tuesday if he thought Coach Frank Beamer's complaints about illegal chop blocks were legitimate following last year's 28-23 loss to Georgia Tech.

If you remember, Graves was one of the topics of discussion in the aftermath of that defeat. The senior suffered an ankle injury when he was "engaged on a blocker and a guy just came and swiped me at the legs." Earlier in the news conference, Graves revealed that the ankle injury didn't fully heal until after the Hokies' Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Tennessee on New Year's Eve.

"I think it was a fair statement for [Beamer] to say," Graves finally conceded. "But then again, football is a full-speed thing and maybe it was an accident or whatever. But things like that happen every now and then. It’s hard to say what their intentions were. ... There isn't no grudge or anything."

The chop block issue has come up frequently this week in the build-up to Thursday night's game between Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. After the 2009 game, the Hokies sent in 11 plays for the ACC to review, and the league's head of officials later confirmed that on four of them, the Yellow Jackets had committed illegal blocks that went uncalled.

In particular, Beamer was upset with chop blocks below the knees when a defender is already engaged with another blocker and crack-back blocks in which a lineman blindsides a defensive player below the knees (safety Kam Chancellor was the target of this on several plays). Both types of blocks were the subject of rules clarifications and made a point of emphasis during the preseason. So does Beamer see the same sort of stuff out of Georgia Tech this year?

"I think the high-low block that got John [Graves last year], I think that is being watched pretty closely in this league," Beamer said. "I would never say they were teaching that. I just think with their style of play, it came up. To me, when the guy’s high on a guy and another guy is chopping his knee – and your attention is on the guy that’s high – then that’s a dangerous play.

"And anytime you’re looking back inside and a guy comes from the outside and chops your knee, that’s a dangerous play. That’s all I ever said, and it’s been clarified and emphasized to a degree. That’s certainly not our concern Thursday night. Our concern is stopping their option game and stopping that quarterback.”

You'll recall, though, that last year Georgia Tech Coach Paul Johnson traded some public barbs with Beamer after his complaints surfaced. Johnson called the allegations "a joke."

“They got out-schemed,” Johnson said last year. “So it’s illegal to out-scheme them, I guess.”

But judging from what Georgia Tech players have said in the build-up to this year's matchup, they have altered some of their blocking techniques.

“Last year, teams were complaining that we were cutting from the side. In fact, cutting from the side is not even a technique; that’s actually doing it wrong,” A-back Orwin Smith told the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer last week. “We just emphasize more of going north and south with our hips and through [the defender] now.”

Even though the Yellow Jackets have been called for just two chop blocks this season, there's still some hard feelings. Safety Eddie Whitley called some of Georgia Tech's tactics "dirty" earlier this week. Running back Darren Evans, who didn't play in last season's game, confirmed that players have been discussing what happened a year ago. When asked what exactly they were talking about, Evans would only say "football talk" with a smile on his face.

"Just the vibe I've been getting from everybody, the different things that went on during the game and people telling stories," he said. "It really does get us pumped up."

It remains to be seen whether this issue will resurface Thursday night, but there's bound to be some borderline blocks, an inevitability Georgia Tech's own players concede.

“If there’s any doubt and it’s between throwing on the guy and trying to cut him or missing the block, you’ve got to throw on him every time," A-back Roddy Jones said. "If you get the penalty, you just live with it.”

By Mark Giannotto  | November 3, 2010; 2:06 PM ET
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