Sam Burnham, Curator
At ABG CFB, we like to pride ourselves that we take a bit of a different approach to the coverage of the game. You can turn on ESPN or even your nightly news and see plenty of running backs reaching the end zone, quarterbacks throwing a frozen rope downfield to a fleet-footed receiver who carries it in for 6, and even crafty defensive ends who swim and sweep their way to a sack and then a celebratory dance. What you don't see is what makes the first two happen and prevents the third one from happening every play.
There is an amazing fact about football. On defense, you can arrange and distribute your 11 players however you wish, as long as they are all on the field at the right time. On offense, you can opt to have five receivers or no receivers. You can run a full house backfield, or empty it. You don't even have to have a true quarterback on any given play. The only positions you are required to have, by rule, is five offensive linemen. Oh, you can spread them out, you can run four of them way off to the side in that ridiculous "Lonesome Possum" formation, but you will have five interior linemen on the field or you will be penalized.
Barring a few rare circumstances, an offensive lineman cannot catch a pass. Barring even rarer circumstances he will not be running with the ball. He's probably not going to get a highlight on SportsCenter. But he's the guy who moves the ball. But he doesn't get the credit for it.
What if I told you there was a six time pro bowler who has a Super Bowl ring, and holds several records after 16 years in the league but is not in the Hall of Fame? Ray Donaldson of Rome, Georgia was likely the first black player to start at center in the NFL. He played 16 seasons for the Colts, Seahawks, and Cowboys. He started in 60 consecutive games, started in a 228 of his 244 games. All of that without even playing center until his sophomore year at Georgia. You've probably heard of Eric Dickerson and Emmit Smith. But did you realize Ray Donaldson was clearing the way for them? I used to stand and look at his retired 88 jersey in my high school trophy case. It was an offensive lineman's dream inspiration.
To anyone that would argue that the offensive line is not exciting or doesn't require much skill, I'd argue that you've never noticed guards pulling around the corner looking to crush corner backs on a sweep play. You've never seen the look of surprise on the face of a defensive tackle when the center steps down, he sees the guard emerge from the other side, and knows he's caught in the trap and can only brace for impact.
So here's a friendly reminder. This season if you see Bryce Love powering into the secondary before making contact with a defender, there was someone who got him there. If Jake Fromm has an extra second to find the open receiver, his linemen were moving their feet like they've been taught to. If you see a linebacker suddenly turn his nose to the sky, he had help getting that way.
Furthermore, if you want to take your experience to the next level, watch the line play. Look for traps, pulls, crosses. Watch how the line adjusts to cover stunts. During pass protection, watch the linemen's feet and how they keep their hips under them while keeping themselves between the quarterback and the pass rush. On the runs, watch who comes downfield to pick up the linebacker. Any nitwit who has never seen the game can tell you when a quarterback throws a pass or a running back takes a hand off. Learn to appreciate the men who really get the job done. This is where you begin to draw the line between a football fan and a connoisseur.
And the South has produced some greats. I've already mentioned Georgia great, Ray Donaldson. There's a Tar Heel by the name of Jeff Saturday you may have heard of. Dolphins Hall of Famer Larry Little was born in Savannah and played high school ball in Miami before starring at Bethune Cookman. Probably my favorite was Patriots and Crimson Tide great John Hannah, who was born in Canton, Georgia. There are plenty more where they came from. I'll be looking for them on the college fields this season, just like I do every season.