A similar look appears more and more on the faces of Aaron Rodgers, Andy Dalton, Russell Wilson and Matthew Stafford. Gone are the days when offensive linemen like Jon Runyan, Kevin Gogan and Orlando Pace were some of the meanest players in the NFL.
No one is protecting quarterbacks anymore in cities like Cincinnati, Seattle, Houston, New York and Indianapolis. They are getting decked every week and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
“You look out there now and try to figure out what is going on, what happened,” Ravens Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden said by phone from London. “The physical nature of the game for offensive linemen is not what it used to be, and NFL teams are trying to teach players technique and learn on the fly.”
Ogden is alluding to the rules of the league’s collective bargaining agreement that don’t allow pads in the offseason during the various minicamps, and there is also limited contact at other points of the year.
That is a major source of the problem, but so is the college game and the NFL becoming more pass-happy.
Former Ravens center/guard Wally Williams was an undrafted free agent sign by the Cleveland Browns out of Florida A&M in 1993. He didn’t become a full-time starter until 1995, the year before the Browns moved to Baltimore. He became better by working on scout teams.
Late former Ravens head coach Ted Marchibroda used to run one of the most physical training camps in the NFL. His teams hit on day one for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon.
“It was the hardest camp I was ever in,” said Williams, who played 11 years in the NFL. “But by the time we were done training camp, we could run the football and we had built a rapport with each other.
“Now everyone is into safety, and I respect that, but this is a collision sport. Offensive line is a specialized position like running back and receiver, but you have to go out and have contact. You have to spar, compete in one-on-ones to get better. That doesn’t happen anymore. Contact is too limited. Unfortunately, you can’t mimic total game situations just by running plays in practice.”
Some current pro offensive linemen struggle because the offensive styles in the NFL and college are different. In the college game, the spread offense is dominant. Quarterbacks don’t just drop back three to five yards; they have semi- or full-sprint rollouts where they run if no one is open.
Pro quarterbacks might take similar steps in dropping back, but they like to stay in the pocket. In the college game, a lot of tackles don’t even get in a three-point stance, even on running plays.
That won’t work in the NFL. It’s important to gain and win the leverage battle at the line of scrimmage. But we’re seeing more wrestling matches and holding in the NFL. Maybe assistant coaches need to spend more time on foot speed.
“In the college game, everybody is in the shotgun or spread offense,” Ogden said. “They are no longer teaching you about coming off the ball and technique, but stressing running into an area. They want to teach you to influence and fill space instead of being physical.
“Back when I started, you went after a player, you attacked him, moved him off the ball to establish a new line of scrimmage. They aren’t teaching these players in college the way they used to, and in the pro game they don’t have the time. You have to get them game-ready quickly.”
NFL coaches haven’t helped themselves by throwing so much. The run game is basically used as a tool to aid in opening up the passing game. The fullback position has become obsolete and this too has made it harder on offensive linemen.
Without balance, defensive players don’t have to respect the running game.
“I remember when Jevon Kearse was a freak player, but everybody has one of them now,” Williams said. “Maybe I am old school, but as much as some things change some things remain the same. The old Washington Redskins with the Hogs and the Dallas Cowboys back in the ’90s used to knock all of that speed out with 330-pound linemen who pounded the ball.”
Ogden said he feels the same way as Williams.
“It’s not in the DNA for teams to run the ball anymore, and that’s allowing these guys to tee off on offensive linemen,” Ogden said. “These linemen are athletes; [they] just don’t have the technique. But I like what the Ravens are doing, I appreciate what they are trying to accomplish in running the football.
“Because there aren’t any guys like me or Willie Roaf out there anymore.”