Hog-ging the center

Posted May 3, 2009

Jonathan Luigs is getting his second business degree at the University of Arkansas, but he has also made it his business to study football. And that includes the chapter on history.

Luigs looked up at the No. 50 nameplate of his temporary locker in the middle of the Paul Brown Stadium locker room this week and the man who once won the Dave Rimington Award as the nation's best center offered, "He wore 50, too, didn't he? I knew he wore it in college."

Luigs had it right, except Rimington wore No. 50 in only the last two seasons (1986-87) of his five years in Cincinnati.

"He was a great center," Luigs said. "Hopefully I can have a little longer career than he did."

If it sounds like Luigs is a sharp kid, you've got it. But then there weren't a lot of dummies walking around PBS this weekend.

Not with guys like Michael Johnson (No. 1 in his high school class), Freddie Brown (a 3.3 GPA with a degree already a year old), Chris Pressley (all As in high school and college) and Quan Cosby (fresh off a speech with his college president).

When the Bengals took Luigs in the fourth round last week, he became their sixth center on the roster and fifth without an NFL snap. The selection hasn't changed anything. Kyle Cook, who has two years in the system but no games played, gets the start when voluntary camp opens in two weeks.

But Luigs arrives with the most pedigree of the group. After winning the Rimington in '07 and starting the season as one of the nation's top prospects, scouts questioned his strength.

Yet the Bengals went into the draft looking for a smart, durable and athletic guy for the spot and they've got that in Luigs. During his four seasons with the Razorbacks they led the SEC in rushing and he started the last 46 games. Before that he came out of Little Rock fresh off helping Pulaski Academy to its first state title.

How smart?

According to Pro Football Weekly, try 32 correct answers out of 37 on the Wonderlic,  a solid score on the draft's I.Q. test.

How smart?

Try a 3.0 grade point average in what has turned out to be a double major. After getting a degree in marketing managing, he's now nine credits shy from another one in transportation logistics.

How smart?

"He really understands football," said offensive line coach Paul Alexander. "You can have a good conversation and actually talk about the same subject at the same time."

Since Luigs is not stupid, he knows the question hanging over him is the question that got Eric Ghiaciuc shipped to Kansas City.

Even though some here felt Ghiaciuc's ability to handle the gargantuan 3-4 nose tackles of the AFC North was underestimated and his failures exaggerated, the Bengals made no bones about trying to find a more powerful guy and some wonder if that guy is Luigs.

"I know I can block them," Luigs said. "It's a  matter of getting the right technique, getting stronger."

Bengals strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton takes a look at the 6-5, 307-pounder and sees something with which to work. The kid is built thickly through the legs and "he's intelligent so I would think that means he's going to work at it," Morton said. "I think you'll see a guy that gets stronger."

The other argument is the guy played at a high level in the SEC, so he must have been moving somebody. Luigs says he did see the 3-4 plenty.

"South Carolina played the 3-4 base, but they didn't have that size nose guards," Luigs said. "A lot of teams in college, if they are a four-down team on first and second down, third down they can throw in a three down and vice versa. I've seen it, but not the caliber of this obviously."

Luigs isn't sure why his stock dropped this past season. He wonders if it was the switch in offensive schemes fostered by new coach Bobby Petrino.

"I don't really know. I felt like I had a good senior year," Luigs said. "But the team didn't do very well and we were learning a new offense. Maybe that hurt a little bit."

But he's also happy he got exposed to an NFL passing game. He sees some similarities with the pro game and the Bengals have regard for his line coach, Mike Summers.

"It's really not too much different," said Luigs of the offenses. "There's a lot of zone, a lot of play-action, a lot of dropback. I ran the zone a lot and then with Coach Petrino we opened up the passing game a little more, so it was good having those two offenses in college."

Luigs' brains can't be underestimated. One time this weekend Alexander and assistant Bob Surace shot each other a look when Luigs calmly made an adjustment at the line on an alignment that has caused problems in the past.

"And he knew it without us having to tell him," Alexander said.

Another thing a center has to do is mix easily with his mates because they have to trust him implicitly when he makes the call. So far so good. His roommate this weekend was first-round pick Andre Smith, a fellow SEC offensive lineman.

Luigs showed mock disbelief when Smith accused him of snoring loudly.

"How does he know he doesn't snore?" Luigs asked a bystander. "What 330-pound guy doesn’t snore?"

One thing Luigs is not going to do is fall asleep in the playbook. Alexander says he needs to firm up his pass protection, but he showed improvement each day picking up the offense. Alexander thought the last day, Sunday, "(Luigs) made his biggest technical improvement. He needs to learn how to use the strength in his body."

On the middle day, Saturday, Luigs felt a little more at ease.

"Another day in the system. Everything is starting to come a little bit better to me," Luigs said. "I'm getting up there and indentifying the defense and making the calls. They're starting to come easier. I think I'm fairly smart. I think I'm a pretty quick learner. So far it's been good, but I know there's a whole lot more of the offense to learn."

Which is smart.



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