In the words of Hall of Famer Willie Anderson: “Linemen never get mad. They’re pissed off already.”
That should come as no surprise given that the job of an offensive lineman is a thankless one. Accolades rarely come down upon these giants among men.
They must line up against, quite frankly, superior athletes and block them from getting to the single most important player on the football field an average of 65 times a game. If just one play goes array or goes the way of said superior athlete, “you’re labeled a shitty player and that other guy probably goes to the Pro Bowl.”
Those were the words of former lineman and current NFL Network broadcaster Brian Baldinger at the now annual OL Masterminds summit held this year on July 8 and 9 in Frisco, Texas. It’s the largest collection of any single position group, boasting more than 200 participants from the NFL and college ranks.
It turns out that a lack of notoriety and thorough understanding of the unit from the masses serves as somewhat of an unspoken bond among those that play it.
“The offensive line is the team within the team,” said Baldinger.
Players got together in the middle of their time off over the already-short NFL summer to share knowledge, technique, life experience and commiserate over what it’s like to play such an individually nuanced position that’s only successful if it works as a unit. If that sounds kind of uncomfortable – that’s because it is.
Ideally, each NFL team fields the exact same five guys each and every down, each and every week. While the strategies, hand placement, pad level, objectives and goals of a center, guard and tackle vary more greatly than the average NFL fan realizes, they are expected to work in unison with each other.
“You’re only as strong as the guy next to you,” said Philadelphia Eagles tackle Lane Johnson while addressing the group.
Therefore, the overarching theme listening to Hall of Famers and current players alike at OL Masterminds was simply, well, being uncomfortable.
“Make it comfortable to be uncomfortable,” said Hall of Fame guard Steve Hutchinson.
Current Miami Dolphins tackle Terron Armstead took it a step further.
“Any time you get comfortable, complacent, content – it’s time to retire.”
Linemen live within varying degrees of discomfort their entire careers, which makes guys like Andrew Whitworth, who just recently retired at the age of 40, that much more impressive. Players entering their 30s finally establish themselves only to then have to grapple with the question of how long their bodies can hold up.
It’s natural then that toughness is lauded as the single-most coveted trait of an offensive lineman.
“Toughness is being able to do the small and large things consistently – even in less than ideal conditions,” said former offensive lineman-turned-trainer Duke Manyweather.
That’s become somewhat of a motto for the O-line mastermind himself. He said it multiple times during the summit.
But perhaps that’s why these guys are so willing to help each other, even when, come football season, they’re ultimately opponents.
The event was started by both Johnson and Manyweather five years ago, starting with just a couple dozen players from around the league who wanted to make each other better. It’s now turned into a must-attend event with some of the league’s premier talent attending every year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen is some of that premier talent. He’s entering his 10th season in the league and snaps to the greatest quarterback to ever grace the turf in Tom Brady. He’s also now a Super Bowl Champion, capturing the Lombardi after the 2020 season and he has attended OL Masterminds every year.
“I think we have four Hall of Famers here and it’s awesome to hear their mindset,” said Jensen of the benefit he gets from coming to the summit. “They’re Hall of Famers for a reason. There’s always something you can learn from guys who have done it before you. Even the younger guys have little things that you go, ‘oh, yeah that makes sense, I’ll try to incorporate that.’”
Though it was Jensen that was looked to more often than not by younger players and participants.
Jensen got up in front of the hundreds of linemen multiple times throughout the two-day period, sharing his style of play and even breaking down some of his film and giving insight into what he was thinking in real-time. A major piece of advice he had for the many players that sought his counsel?
“A lot of people say play to your strength — you also need to know your weaknesses.”
That has helped him hone his game. Telling the story of having trouble with cross-faces during the 2020 season, the issue came out of nowhere. But through identifying it and getting out of his comfort zone to learn new techniques and preparations, Jensen was able to overcome it. He’s lauded as one of the best centers in the league, proven by the fact the Buccaneers awarded him a new three-year contract that pays him accordingly.
I need y’all to understand how much @sinjen66 is respected and admired by his peers (& deservedly so).
He had the same size circle around him here at OL Masterminds as HOFers. pic.twitter.com/IymnnKtxVB
— Carmen Vitali (@CarmieV) July 8, 2022
Hearing from him, and Armstead, and Hutchinson, and Anderson, and Manyweather, and Johnson, therein lies the value in a get-together like OL Masterminds. In the ever-evolving game of football, it’s almost a wonder these kinds of seminars aren’t mandated, or at least more common.
For now, the O-line will quietly do their own work, pushing themselves out of their comfort zones as a unit, as they always do.
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