They are the unsung heroes. At six feet-plus, 300 pounds-plus, offensive lineman possess raw and sometimes seemingly inhuman strength. However, these giants among men are much less like the mindless yoked oxen that they may seem and much more like masters of martial arts.
Often they are asked to be Steven Seagal in the midst of pass or run blocking chaos. Just picture it, taunted by his enemies, they do not strike first (false start), but when provoked they have to be ready to take on anything. They fight their enemies one on one (some can do two) in melee combat. These enemies know the arts pretty well themselves, with their bull-rushes, swim moves, spins, jukes, low-locks, and they are just as strong to boot. They counter with their own kung-fu, and must do so without making mistakes that will result in the dreaded yellow-sandbag that lands at their feet known as “holding.” If they manage to prevail they move on to the next foe, all in the name of protecting their damsel quarterbacks.
The skills of a lineman are unheralded, not many guards are fighting tabloid paparazzi as they try and vacation with their Victoria’s Secret model lady friends. Even kickers get more glory than the trench fighters…kickers. Nevertheless, being an offensive lineman makes you one of the most skilled players on the field. They are repeatedly asked to pull outside the hash marks and block either #55 or #42 in a split-second decision, or perhaps lock up with #94 for exactly 2 Mississippi before moving on to #52. These types of request are play after play, and they are all done while expected to be like a stone until the ball snaps and a holding-free raging bull after it’s hiked.
With so much riding on mental and physical strength there is definitely room for players to stand out amongst others in the league. Here are ten of the best kung-fu masters.
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Marshal Yanda G/T Ravens: Yanda was selected for his first Pro Bowl selection last season for the Ravens, which earned him a lucrative $32 Million/5 year contract. Well-coached at Iowa, Yanda is one of the most physical lineman I’ve ever seen. Strength at his level is essential in taking the intimidating edge off of some of the leagues roughest defenses. Though the Ravens have looked shaky in some games, Yanda is part of a line that has made plenty of holes for Ray Rice and kept pokey Flacco off of his back as he constantly attempts to extend plays without moving.
Jake Long T Dolphins: Long is nearly 6 foot 8, 315 lbs, and can run the 40 yard dash faster than I can at nearly half his size. He is a physical freak, yet keeps a clear head and is capable of making smart quick decisions. He’s earned recognition at the highest level all throughout his college career at University of Michigan, and Pro Bowl recognition throughout his professional career with the Dolphins. He currently is playing under his $58 million rookie contract and earning every penny.
Logan Mankins G Patriots: Mankins may be somewhat of a loose cannon, but his upside greatly outweighs his risk. Known for his gritty and unyielding effort, Mankins and his companions have kept the Patriots elite for years. One iconic play that I know Mankins for is his turtle-tumble on a loose ball in the end zone in an 06 AFC Championship game that looked to be all Patriots early. You see Mankins #70 often in the middle of plays, but don’t hear it often from the referees (unless it’s for hitting someone in the groin).
Duane Brown T Texans: Brown was a tight end as a Hokie before being recognized for his blocking ability and told to bulk up before moving to tackle. Though not recognized in the Pro Bowl (which to be honest is the only real recognition a lineman can hope for) for his unorthodox playing style, Brown has been part of a very successful Texans line, even starting all of his rookie season for Schaubs piece de resistance 6000 yard year.
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Mike Iupati G 49ers: Iupati was moved from American Samoa to California and bred to play football. Though he played in the WAC, the 49ers gambled by taking him in the first round, and that gamble seems to be paying dividends. As Harbaugh sews together the loose ends of his 49ers team, one unwavering achievement has been their run game. Iupati has been essential in the run-blocking scheme and has shown that his balance of strength and in-game-intelligence wins football games.
Nick Mangold C Jets: Centers have a TON to consider every play, and have to concentrate on everything from a perfect snap to picking up a blitz before even thinking of the snap count. It’s definitely one of the most difficult positions to play in the NFL and Nick Mangold is the best. The Jets made themselves relevant again by drafting D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Mangold in the 06 draft. Having Mangold at center has helped struggling young quarterbacks in New York develop some much needed chemistry and spark a run game for Rex Ryan.
Joe Thomas T Browns: Thomas is simple man, he even went fishing with his family on draft day, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he is a gentle giant. Thomas is more like an ogre, he plays with a ferocity on the field in great contrast to his off the field persona. Defenses game plan around this beastly tackle, scouting his blend of size and strength. Yet another high football IQ on this list, Thomas has only registered 6 holding calls in his entire career going into this season.
Tyson Clabo T Falcons: Unlike Thomas, Clabo clawed his way into recognition and an NFL career. He went undrafted and tried out for practice squads until he earned a spot with the Falcons. His hard work paid off as the Falcons have entrusted this pack mule with protecting Matty Ice and their high flying attack. A man that has worked hard for his starting spot makes for a dangerous football player.
Some of the most technically detailed positions that are played in the NFL wear numbers in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Offensive lineman move mountains every game, and hardly ever have anyone, even hometown fans, remember their names. Humble heroes, they sacrifice their bodies in the name of 4th and inches, 20-yard runs, and that extra half-second that Brady needs to find Gronkowski. These kung-fu masters quietly take and leave the field without any boom mics, flashbulbs, or digital recorders ever finding them. I’m sure they don’t mind quietly riding off into the sunset, so long as that sunset is a Lombardy Trophy.