Anyone who has closely followed the Bengals Offensive Line for the last six years knows what type of player we're always on the lookout for. At our first meeting after I took over the offensive line prior to the '93 season, I told the players that we were interested not only in talented athletes, but that we wanted "big, tough guys who love football." At that time, Joe Walter and Bruce Kozerski were those type of guys, yet they were close to retirement.
Ever since Coach Coslet took over three years ago, he has been on a mission to rebuild and upgrade our offensive line. I'm excited going into this 2000 Season because I feel that we have quality guys on our line who are also experienced. This is the first time in several years that we've kept the same starting unit together while also having some good, experienced backups who will push to get into the starting lineup. We feel good about our line as we head into training camp.
This piece is for you, our fans, to get to know our offensive linemen and how they work as a unit. We talk about possessing "one heartbeat" as a cohesive unit. The underlying personality of this group is: "Big, Tough Guys who Love Football". Let me explain:
- You measure how big a man is by his vision. You measure how tough he is by his determination.
- You measure his love by the passion in his heart.
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That's what I believe. Physically, we are a very big offensive line. Our line averages 6'5" and 320 pounds – one of the largest lines in the NFL. Size certainly helps an offensive lineman, particularly in pass protection and point of attack run blocking. When we talk about big, however, I'm usually referring to the "size of the fight in the dog," rather than the size of the dog in the fight.
Many times you can tell how big a guy is by looking in his eyes, but the true test is the way he performs. Some guys are big enough for the bright lights and thrive on the intense competition, while other guys can't measure up to the pressure. In order to be big, you have to think big. The odds of accomplishing any goal significantly increase if you believe that you will. Inevitably, great accomplishments began with the basic vision of success. Most big men have great aspirations for themselves as they try to measure up to their own expectations. For this reason, I've found that most big men love the sound of their own name.
Talent is important, but talented men without the right stuff will come up short. Quite often I'm asked: "How can you coach and motivate these million dollar athletes?" I have come to appreciate that I work with hard working, driven men who are at the top of their profession. Very few people get to the top simply through talent. The majority of the professional athletes I have encountered possess rare traits of intense competitiveness, dedication and personal pride. They're tough, both mentally and physically. You've probably heard the NFL defined as Not For Long. That coincides with my assessment that the National Football League is for the *Best of the Best. *When we determine that a particular player lacks the mental toughness or commitment, then we part our ways.
I decided many years ago, when I was a college football player, that when it was my turn to coach, I would play the guys who loved football. You see, football is more to me than an object or a game. It is a philosophy. Its essence is hard work rather than shortcuts, determination of will to overcome mental and physical pain, poised execution in the teeth of adversity and the drive to reach out and touch greatness. Some people refer to these type of people as "Winners," while others refer to them as "Leaders." I simply call them guys who love football.
Rich Braham, our center, has the right stuff. Rich was our starting left guard for three years before I asked him last summer to switch positions to center. Although we were very happy with his performance at left guard, I wanted him to be our center when Darrick Brilz retired for two reasons.
First, Richie has rare short area explosiveness, which is a unique trait that all great centers possess. The center is handicapped because he makes all the calls at the line of scrimmage, he must snap the ball to the quarterback and finally he cannot adjust his line-up depth (like the guards and tackles do) to assist his blocking angles. Consequently, he must execute in a poised, explosive fashion in close quarters.
The second reason that I wanted Richie to be our center is because of the type of person that he is. You see, Richie was a "walk-on" player at West Virginia who not only earned a scholarship – he became a terrific left tackle who was drafted in the third round. He's tough, scrappy and competitive. When I worked him out at West Viriginia, he punched me so hard that he knocked me down and about broke my chest. He's my kind of guy. I remember growing up admiring the way that Mike Webster played center for the Steelers. That's the type of guy that Richie is. Quite simply, when we break the huddle and charge the line of scrimmage, I wanted Richie leading us.
Rod Jones, our left tackle, is not only a great athlete, he has great desire and intensity. At 6-5 and 325 pounds of muscle, he is physically big -- real big. Coming out of college, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.9 seconds and bench pressed well over 400 pounds. In college, I referred to him as a "heat seeking missile". I've never seen anyone pancake so many guys flat on their backs. Unfortunately, he used to get too excited and miss some blocks. He is reckless and aggressive in nature with an intense, determined disposition. He has become a good player because he has developed poise which was the only thing holding him back. His Big-ness is more defined by his character.
Willie Anderson is our right tackle and, in my opinion, the best right tackle in the National Football League. At 6-5 and 340 pounds, Willie graded out over 90% last season and did not get beat physically for a quarterback sack. When we drafted Willie in the first round four years ago, we compared him to a locomotive. He is an awesome point of attack run blocker. Coaching guys like Willie is quite a treat reserved for the NFL because he combines rare ability with outstanding technique.
The pro game, from a balance and patience standpoint, is very different from most college schemes. Often, talented players who try to play pro ball with strictly their athleticism do all right, but rarely do they become great players. Inevitably, the game passes them by as they get older and their physical abilities diminish. As a tribute to Willie, he has studied and embraced the pro techniques. This past season, not only was he our best offensive lineman, he was our best technician.
Last year we signed two veteran free agents to play guard – Matt O'Dwyer and Brian DeMarco. I feel like I'm just starting to know them as they enter their second seasons in our system. Playing the offensive line is probably the toughest position in all of sports to adapt into the system. Whereas a baseball player faces the pitcher, an offensive lineman is always working in unison with another lineman. Both men must work out all of the adjustments and develop a feel for each other. That is why timing and cohesiveness is so critical on the offensive line.
Generally, offensive linemen play more snaps in pre-season games than other positions because this intricate timing is not easily developed. Brian DeMarco missed half of the season last year due to injury, and I look forward to getting him caught up to speed. At 6-6 and 335 pounds, he's a big, strong, powerful guy. Matt O'Dwyer is an interesting guy. He possesses rare physical strength and quickness and has allowed very few sacks in his NFL career. More importantly, he is really a motivated guy. His toughness and determination for the game separates him from most of his peers.
From last year's active roster, we return Brock Gutierrez, Mike Goff and Jamain Stephens. All three of those guys have the right stuff, and I predict that one of them could easily emerge as a starter this year.
Goff is a big, smart guy who can play all five positions. He started several games at right guard as a rookie and started last season's finale at left tackle versus Tony Brackens (Jacksonville). Jamain came to us from Pittsburgh and is turning some heads. At 6-6 and 345 pounds, he is one powerful, explosive man. I look forward to his second year in the system. Brock is Mr. Reliable who you can* trust* to not only give his best effort but to perform well. He has been a solid contributor on special teams.
Scott Rehberg was Cleveland's starting right guard last year and came to us in the off season. He is a giant with strength. I look forward to working with him.
Like Rehberg, the remaining players on our roster have not yet played a regular season snap for the Bengals. Mike Doughty and Tony Coats are veterans who have worked on our practice squad mostly and are prepared to compete for a roster spot. Doughty is a third-year, tough giant from Notre Dame, and Coats is a flexible guy from Washington who can play several positions. Doug Dorley is a rookie free agent from Bowling Green who has shown quickness and smarts. Roger Roesler is a rookie free agent from Texas who, among his accomplishments, threw the high school shot put 71 feet.
As you can see, the profile of all the players is similar. There is not a single under-achiever in the group. I guess I'm no different from the typical fan who looks with disgust upon fat, lazy professional athletes who play just to collect the big paycheck. Those type of guys are not here. As a coach, you need to have confidence that when you go into a game that your players will lay it on the line and give it everything they have for the team.
I look forward to this group being our leaders this coming season. When it comes to leadership, I tell them not to dwell on it. Just work hard and do everything in the best interest of the team. Leadership is effective and contagious if it is sincere. The right of leadership is reserved only for those who have paid the price through their sacrifices and dedication.
I've got a new sign for above my office door in the new, beautiful Paul Brown Stadium .
Through this door walk
BIG, TOUGH GUYS WHO LOVE FOOTBALL
I can't wait to get started.