NFL 2009 Week 3 Preview
How difficult is it to start as a rookie offensive lineman in the NFL?
"It's extremely difficult," says Baltimore Ravens All-Star center MATT BIRK, who is a 12-year NFL veteran. "There's a lot of stuff going on there. I know I wasn't even close to doing it."
Tennessee Titans offensive line coach and Pro Football Hall of Fame guard MIKE MUNCHAK says one of the challenges as offensive linemen shift to the NFL is facing top-notch competition each Sunday.
"Every week you are playing against great football players," says Munchak, who tutored Titans Pro Bowl tackle MICHAEL ROOS in his rookie season in 2005. "That is the biggest difference for a lineman coming into this league. In college you may have one or two big games or opponents, but the other eight or nine you may just be better than the guy you are playing against. You don't have that luxury in this league."
Through Week 2, NFL rookie offensive linemen have totaled 19 starts – the second-most through the first two weeks of a season since 1970. On Kickoff Weekend, 10 rookie offensive linemen started – the most in a single season since 1970.
Rookie offensive linemen have traditionally been introduced to a starting role in the NFL at a slower pace, but according to former Dallas Cowboys vice president of player personnel (1960-1989) and NFL.com senior analyst GIL BRANDT, the timetable is accelerating.
"It starts at the high school and college level," says Brandt. "Everybody is throwing the ball more, so offensive linemen are spending more time in games and practices pass blocking. Offensive linemen are more prepared to handle passing situations and they have improved their pass protection techniques before they enter the NFL."
The most starts by rookie offensive linemen through two weeks of a season since 1970:
|Year||Starts by Rookie Offensive Linemen through Week 2|
|Source: National Football League|
Munchak, who played in 159 career games for the Houston Oilers (1982-1993), is well versed on technique and says the challenge for any young NFL lineman is to grasp pass blocking.
"I think run blocking for the most part doesn't change a whole lot from college," says Munchak. "The technique may be a little different, but it is not going to be as dramatic. In the pass game to me, there is a lot more going on. Unfortunately, it is not just blocking the guy over you, it is the confusion the defense presents that gives you that second of delay and is the reason why you get beat."
Miami Dolphins Pro Bowl tackle JAKE LONG, who started all 16 games as a rookie last season, says that he relies on his fundamentals to survive the rigors of the NFL.
"Technique and hard work, working on your hands working on your feet, if you have great technique it can take you a long way, I think even more than ability," says Long. "There are some things that you have to learn and do differently, but the basic core things that I learned in college are what got me here. You have to keep those principles and learn some new things from the coaches here."
The 10 rookie offensive linemen that have totaled 19 starts through Week 2:
Eben Britton, Jacksonville Jaguars - Right Tackle
"We wanted to have good competition and make him earn a starting spot. Each week he got dramatically better." – Jaguars head coach JACK DEL RIO
Andy Levitre, Buffalo Bills - Left Guard
"He doesn't have many mental errors. He doesn't have many penalties. Those sort of small things are what make a good offensive lineman. He goes out there and plays physical." – Bills RT BRAD BUTLER
Phil Loadholt, Minnesota Vikings - Right Tackle
"He is a physical guy. Obviously, he's a giant man. What I really like about him is that he finishes plays. You watch some of those tapes and you can see him, he's one of those guys downfield trying to get that extra block, that extra strain, trying to knock a guy off the pile. That is what I like about him." – Vikings Offensive Coordinator DARRELL BEVELL
Alex Mack, Cleveland Browns - Center
"Alex Mack is extremely bright. It's his first season and he is already playing like a veteran. He has done a tremendous job of learning the offense, learning the techniques and then going out and executing it." – Browns LT JOE THOMAS
Eugene Monroe, Jacksonville Jaguars - Left Tackle
"I think he's been pretty steady. I think Eugene had a little bit of a delay at the start but then really came into camp and has been pretty steady throughout." – Jaguars head coach JACK DEL RIO
Michael Oher, Baltimore Ravens - Right Tackle
"He's extremely talented, extremely gifted. He works extremely hard. He's a soft-spoken guy. He does everything the coaches ask him to do, and goes out there and works his craft extremely hard every single day. I think that's a sign of a good pro." – Ravens C MATT BIRK
Jason Smith, St. Louis Rams - Right Tackle
"I trained with him during all the pre-draft workouts, so I'm very familiar with him. He's a great young tackle. One thing I noticed about him is his leadership ability. He has a great work ethic. When we were working together before the draft, there were a lot of guys there, but he stood out by the way he worked his tail off preparing to be the best at what he does. That's why he is going to be a player that is going to progress throughout his time in this league." – Redskins LB/DE BRIAN ORAKPO
Max Unger, Seattle Seahawks - Right Guard
"Max plays with a passion for the game, he's intelligent and he's extremely athletic. I think what makes him special is the combination of those characteristics. He's not defined by one trait or the other. He just needs the experience to become an elite player in this league." – Seahawks offensive line coach MIKE SOLARI
Louis Vasquez, San Diego Chargers - Right Guard
"The biggest thing you see with Vasquez is what he has been doing from the start of training camp to starting the first game is he is growing. Being able to let the hesitation go and play fast and play at full speed and let that 330 pounds, let the size, the strength and the power come to light." – Chargers defensive end LUIS CASTILLO
Eric Wood, Buffalo Bills - Right Guard
"He's doing a good job. He's a hard worker and a tough guy. He's going to be a pretty good guard in this league. He has pretty good feet. He has good technique and plays with leverage so all of those things will help him as he develops." – Bills DT MARCUS STROUD
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