‘Where every play begins’

Published 9:19 am Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Garrett Nesmith summed up the offensive line position best, when he said: “It’s where every play begins.”

The offensive line is one of the most criminally underrated positions in sports.

Of course, in football the running backs or quarterbacks usually draw the most attention. In basketball, it’s often the small forward: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Paul Pierce and so on. The guys who score the points are the ones who get their own shoe commercials.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The clutch performers like the kicker in football, the closer in baseball, or the goalie in soccer are either the hero or the goat. They aren’t revered like the points guys, but most people remember them when a play that they determine the outcome of determines the larger result of the game at large.

Auburn fans will forever remember Wes Byrum for hitting the game-winning field goal as time expired during the 2010 National Championship Game.

Conversely, Alabama fans might remember, with some pain, Cade Foster missing not one, not two, but three field goals that seemed to cost the team a shot at the national championship until many events went their way late in the season.

But a big reason Alabama beat LSU the second time around had to do with the health and preparation of their offensive line. Byrum was in a position to make the winning kick for Auburn because of the strength of the offensive line.

Even though Atmore residents haven’t heard a whole lot about the Escambia Academy offensive line, you can be sure the group has been a big key to the team’s success this season.

Sure, Winston Barron has graced our pages a lot this season and deservedly so, but now it’s time to give credit to some of the guys who made key blocks that enabled Barron to make his dazzling touchdown runs.

Senior Bo Bishop said he’s not at all concerned with being in the spotlight.

“I don’t even think about it,” he said. “They couldn’t get their name on the page if it wasn’t for us.”

The 2011 Wisconsin offensive line earned the nickname “The Big Uglies” from Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema. The Escambia Academy Cougars, whether consciously aware of it or not, dipped a little further back in history for their nickname.

In 1982, Washington Redskins offensive line coach gave his squad the nickname of “The Hogs.” The five men from that unit went on to win a Super Bowl and left guard was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

The Cougars call themselves “The Hogs” as well, and the former Redskins bunch is certainly not a bad group to be modeled after.

Getting along and functioning as a unit is much more vital to the well-being of an offensive line than many of the other positions.

“We have a big responsibility,” senior Blake Quimby said. “We’re all like brothers. We try to keep each other up.”

Senior Luke Roberson adds, “It’s trying not to make each other mad.”

Bishop doesn’t worry about upsetting his fellow members of the line because he has a tendency to crack jokes that leaves the entire group in a lighter mood.

While the group displays cohesion, each member seems to bring a different personality and approach to the game that works well when performed in unison.

For Roberson, the appealing aspect is getting to hit defensive lineman. For freshman H.T. Fountain, the key to getting better has been carefully studying his assignments.

For Bishop, it’s less about raw power and more about the fine mechanics.

“You’re not gonna’ have strength and conditioning if you don’t have technique—basically, just your footwork and getting your hands on them, driving them back,” he said.

Bishop is driving at the truth that the offensive line is a much more highly nuanced position than most people realize. A lot of the strength of an offensive lineman lies not necessarily in their biceps, but in their lower bodies. Footwork is an area NFL talent evaluators test rigorously. Although offensive linemen suffer from a wide range of injuries, one of the most common injuries for the position is a knee injury. Before anything else, an offensive lineman must first either plant their feet or drive their feet forward.

It may not be a glamorous position, but it’s the center who snaps the ball to the quarterback to start every play in football. As Nesmith said, the offensive line is where every play begins.