|04-15-2005, 07:01 AM||#1|
Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: Atlanta, GA
2005 Draft Preview: Offensive Line
By Andrew Mason
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A look at the Broncos' roster reveals key contributors at almost every position who arrived from other NFL teams.
There's a starting fullback drafted by Carolina. A starting quarterback who spent six seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. A recent signee at tight end who's played for three teams in his NFL career. A weakside linebacker who spent a year in Tampa Bay and then returned. A pair of safeties acquired through various modes of free agency. A starting cornerback acquired in the NFL's first Pro Bowler-for-Pro Bowler swap in three decades. And, of course, there's a defensive line with four key imports from the Cleveland Browns.
And then you have the offensive line. The Broncos began 2004 brandishing five homegrown starters, five players who've never known any other professional colors but orange and blue. And even after Dan Neil moved to the inactive list and Cooper Carlisle took his place, there remained a quintet of career Broncos up front.
Of Denver's five starters, only George Foster was a first-round pick. The two guards -- Carlisle and Ben Hamilton -- were both fourth-round selections in 2000 and 2001, respectively. Center Tom Nalen arrived as a seventh-round pick in 1994, and tackle Matt Lepsis wasn't even drafted, joining as a rookie free agent right after the 1997 NFL Draft.
In an era where champions are as liable to be cobbled together through unrestricted free agency as with grooming players straight from the college ranks, the Broncos' offensive line stands as not only a throwback -- but as a testament to the notion that teaching and development of young players is still essential for building a winner.
It also helps the Broncos find their types of offensive linemen, though they cannot be placed into set categories. At 338 pounds, George Foster proved that one doesn't have to be a relatively small offensive lineman to fare well in Denver's scheme, as was commonly believed to be the case.
The offensive line is still smaller than the NFL average, but Foster meshed well quickly thanks to remarkable lightness on his feet for someone of his size and the ability to grasp the scheme after a rookie-year gestation period, most of which was spent ont the practice squad.
Denver's scheme is something that many rising rookie offensive linemen notice immediately as they watch games from afar, studying for the fast-approaching day when their NFL opportunity arises.
"They're not the biggest guys in the NFL," said Oregon's Adam Snyder. "A lot of people think that you have to be 380 pounds (and) 6-foot-7, but that's really not it at all. They're technicians. Everything they do is right, from the way that they move their feet, to the way that they place their hands and are able to pull outside of the line of scrimmage and really run with blocks. So you don't have to be this huge mammoth of a man."
Not mammoth -- just fluid, fleet of foot and precise.
Jammal Brown doesn't have as much offensive-line experience as most in the draft , having arrived in college as a defensive lineman. But his athleticism and size (6-foot-6, 313 pounds) helps his stock.
In spite of Brown's lack of experience along the offensive line, he did not allow a sack last season.
Washington's Khalif Barnes became a dominant offensive tackle before incurring a fractured wrist in an Oct. 13 practice session and missing the rest of the season. However, he recovered in time to play in the Senior Bowl three months later.
The 6-foot-6, 305-pounder is light on his feet, something he attributes to his days playing basketball in high school.
"My first passion was basektball," Barnes recalled. "I played that before I started playing organized football. That's what I wanted to do. Then I played football and started liking it."
At 6-foot-7 and 320 pounds, Florida State's Alex Barron might be the most physically imposing lineman in this year's draft class. He overcame a torn right anterior cruciate ligament, incurred during his freshman year, to close his college career as an All-American.
Ever since Michael Muņoz arrived at the University of Tennessee, the 6-foot-5, 306-pound tackle has carried the weight of playing with the surname of a Hall of Famer who is arguably the finest tackle to ever play the sport.
Anthony Muņoz is not just a father to his son Michael, but also a teacher, instructing him in line play for years.
"I pride myself on my technique. He had a great work ethic and I think that I work just as hard, the younger Muņoz said. "Everybody is a good technician at the next level and works on their game. It's definitely a tough transition."
Just being able to have the opportunity for a college-to-NFL transition is remarkable for North Carolina State's Chris Colmer. The 6-foot-5, 310-pounder missed all of the 2003 campaign because he battled Parsonage-Turner Syndrome, which is a viral infection that caused numbness and pain in his left shoulder.
The NCAA granted Colmer a sixth year of eligibility last fall (he had redshirted in his 1999 freshman season), allowing him to build his strength back up to where he completed the season and ended the year as a Senior Bowl selection. He played in all of State's games, only sitting out portions of the contests against Virginia Tech and Maryland with back spasms and a sprained right shoulder, respectively.
At one point in his career, Michigan Tech's Joe Berger looked like he wouldn't have a program for which to play when the school announced its decision to drop football. Berger, intent on studying engineering, had no desire to transfer in order to keep playing.
"We were told at six o'clock in the morning during our morning running that the program was cut," Berger said. "Two weeks later the alumni came together (to save the program); they're the ones funding it now."
Berger then blossomed enough to be invited to the Scouting Combine as one of the few Division II players asked to work out there. Berger played tackle at Michigan Tech, but was worked out as a guard at the Combine.
Virginia's Elton Brown was selected as the Atlantic Coast Conference's top blocker in each of the last two seasons, just one of many honors that included first-team All-ACC recognition and All-America status at right guard.
And with all that, there's his size -- 6-foot-5 and 329 pounds.
Note: Brown is not one and the same with the Elton Brown that played basketball at U.Va. from 2001-05. The two are cousins.
Shoulder surgery and a concussion during the course of C.J. Brooks' career at the University of Maryland did not keep him from becoming the school's all-time leader in games started with 51. The 6-foot-5, 309-pound lineman played mostly left tackle -- but also some right tackle -- in his freshman and sophomore years, then moved to guard as a junior in 2003.
Brooks got thrown into the fire early, lining up against Julius Peppers right away as the current Carolina Panthers defensive end was finishing his final year at the University of North Carolina.
"I only gave up two sacks on him -- only two," Brooks said, adding that he only gave up one sack as a senior.
LSU's Ben Wilkerson (6-foot-3, 299 pounds) was talented enough to earn second-team All-America honors and play for a national champion, but his career in Baton Rouge was a painful one, dotted by a series of injuries to his knees, ankle and to his back in the form of a herniated disc.
But the most serious of all was the torn patella tendon that ended his college career on Oct. 30 against Vanderbilt.
"They used a wire to support it and hold it together until it heals," Wilkerson said, adding that the wire was subsequently removed after the repaired tendon strengthened.
Wilkerson did not work out at the Combine, opting to continue rehabilitating the knee.
"It's all about getting it back to where it needs to be," Wilkerson said.
North Carolina center Jason Brown is mature beyond his years, and not only because he's been married for nearly two years, and not just because he dealt with the death of his brother, who lost his life in military operations in Iraq a year and a half ago.
Brown's maturity came before those life-altering circumstances. When Brown first arrived at UNC, he immediately arranged the priorities of his life to turn away from the non-essentials.
"When an athlete first goes to college they tell you you're going to have to juggle between three things -- academics, football and social life," Brown said. "For me, academics and football are all I have in my life. That's just one less thing that I have to allottime for."
Brown came by his work ethic while growing up on a 40-acre spread in rural Henderson, N.C., about an hour north of the Raleigh-Durham metropolitan area. Trees and vegetation needed to be cleared in order to build a home, and it was up to Brown and his family members to do it themselves.
"When we got there it was honeysuckle everywhere trees growing up," Brown said. "I was used to using a chainsaw at a very young age -- it was a child-size chainsaw -- but as I progressed I graduated up to one of those professional Stihl chainsaws every day when I would come home from school. I loved doing it. I would turn on the chainsaw and just start chopping trees."
Mississippi's Chris Spencer only started one full season at center for the Rebels, backing up at guard in 2002 and starting four games in 2003. But he believes that particular statistic is a misleading one.
"I played in every game," Spencer said. "I was considered a starter, I just didn't play (the opening) plays; I'd go in the second series and play the rest of the game."
Hmmm...No mention of Bass. What's up with that?
|04-15-2005, 07:45 AM||#3|
Join Date: Sep 2003
And no mention of Evan Mathis either! Let's go Evan.