Behind the sweat: Offensive linemen

The most underrated position in sports is that of an offensive lineman in football. Five offensive linemen make up an offensive line. These five players — two tackles, two guards, and a center — are put in a precarious position. When they succeed, someone else gets the credit, and when they fail, they take the blame.

An offensive lineman’s job is to block. They block on all running and passing plays, and they’re not allowed to catch or run the ball — except in rare circumstances.

Name an offensive lineman in the NFL. Most people can’t, but they can name the best running backs and quarterbacks, most of whom will attribute their success in part to the work of those “hogmollies” up front.

A perfect example of how the play of the offensive line can affect a game occurred in the College Football National Championship earlier this month between the Florida Gators and the Ohio State Buckeyes. Florida came into the game as the underdog, but easily won 41–14, thanks, in large part, to their defense’s ability to pressure Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith.

The Buckeye offensive line was not able to block long enough to give Smith time to complete passes.

The Ohio State offense never got on track. Smith, this year’s Heisman winner, only completed four passes for 35 yards. He was sacked five times, he fumbled once, and he threw an interception.

The lack of recognition for the efforts of these ginormous creatures (NFL linemen weigh an average of 312 pounds) is an injustice.

The only offensive lineman to make a run at the Heisman Trophy (awarded to college football’s best player) in recent history was Ohio State’s Orlando Pace, when he placed fourth in 1996.

Next, you’d have to go back to 1973 when another Ohio State left tackle, John Hicks, finished runner-up. An offensive lineman won’t be considered a legitimate candidate in the near future either, as linemen don’t have statistics. Not many voters are going to overlook a quarterback who threw for 3000 yards or a running back who rushed for 1500 yards and pick a lineman.

Despite not having comparable statistics, good offensive linemen aren’t a dime a dozen. Linemen are highly valued in the NFL — just take one look at their salaries. An article in the September 25, 2006 Sports Illustrated looked at the lucrative evolution of the left tackle. The left tackle is unique as this player sets up on the far left side of the offensive line and must protect his quarterback’s blind side. Most quarterbacks are right-handed, so they will have their back to the left side of the field. As the article stated, before the 2000 season the Baltimore Ravens re-signed left tackle Jonathan Ogden for six years and $44 million.

This meant he would be making eight times more than the man he was protecting, quarterback Trent Dilfer. Oh, and another thing: Did you know that before each snap the center has the responsibility of determining the likely action of the defense, and then adjusting the blocking assignments of his teammates accordingly through audible and visual signals? It’s not as simple as just hitting the closest guy to you.

I’m not saying that offensive linemen should be idolized or made more famous than quarterbacks. I am saying they deserve more recognition and respect. Next time a quarterback has all day to throw or a running back sprints through a huge hole, stop and applaud the work of the offensive line. That’s all they want—a little respect.