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Book Excerpt: View from the O-Line

Book Excerpt: View from the O-Line
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Book excerpt by Howard Mudd

Ed. Note: The following is an excerpt from Howard Mudd's upcoming book The View from the O-Line: Football According to NFL Offensive Linemen and an Uncommon Coach. Mudd played for six years in the NFL with the 49ers and Bears, then spent nearly four decades as an offensive line coach in the NFL, starting with the Chargers in 1974 and coaching for the 49ers, Seahawks, Browns, Chiefs, Seahawks again, and Colts before retiring with the Eagles in 2012. View from the O-Line includes not only Mudd's observations, but from more than twenty contributors: current and former NFL players (including Nick Mangold, Jeff Saturday, Frank Winters, and Jackie Slater) executives, and officials.

The book will be officially released next Tuesday, September 20, and you can pre-order it from Amazon here. We'll also have a book review next week from Ben Muth, and you can listen to Mudd talk about offensive line play and his coaching career with both Muth and Aaron Schatz on this special edition of the Off The Charts podcast.

Gold Standard

In just about any bar you can start a debate about who the best quarterback was. You could have a lengthy discussion about the best running backs. You can make comparisons between the best receivers or defensive players. What you won't hear is an exchange about the best offensive lines and linemen.

We'll offer our opinions.

From my playing days, it's easy to name the two best. Jimmy Parker with the Colts and the Packers' Forrest Gregg. Parker embodied the big man who was athletic. He did his job very, very well.

Forrest did it more with technique. He wasn't as athletic as Parker. He played at tackle and guard, not unlike Bruce Matthews. When we played together in the Pro Bowl, Gregg inspired me to try to run faster and play harder just by his presence. And on top of being a great player, he was a great person. To me, he embodies the perfect offensive lineman. I'm not going to say he was better than Parker. But those two, hands down, were the best in the '60s.

After that, there were many great ones. But I'll leave those to the fellas.

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Ed White: "I loved watching John Hannah with the Patriots run block. I don't think anyone did what John did run blocking.

"Other guards I loved watching were Howard and John Niland with Dallas. Tom Mack with the Rams was a good, solid everyday guard. Doug Wilkerson in San Diego was an excellent, very athletic guard. Bob Young was a big, strong physical guard for the Cardinals. Joe DeLamielleure was very well-rounded guard who was a very good run blocker. I loved watching Larry Allen with the '90s Cowboys. Probably the most physical guard I've ever seen. He might be the best guard I've seen in modern times. He was a road grader and pass blocker who could do it all.

"I know I'm going to forget somebody and tick them off."

Mike Munchak: "For me, John Hannah was special. He was in the right era. Smashmouth at its finest. He was built for the job.

"Dwight Stephenson at center. He was so good with his hands. I never saw anyone who could do what he did with his hands. Mike Webster was more physical, like all the Steelers with those lines they had. He brought so much energy, like sprinting from the huddle.

"At tackle, Anthony Muñoz was obviously very special. Jackie Slater played twenty years and could do things other guys couldn't even think of doing.

"And I played right next to Bruce Matthews. The guy played more games [as a lineman] than anyone in NFL history. He was as good as anyone who played more than one position. I watched him and coached him. I tell him if I hadn't coached him his last five years, he wouldn't be what he is today [laughing].

"Ron Yary was the first pick in the draft by Minnesota back in the day. The Raiders had Art Shell and Gene Upshaw. It's been fun to get to know some of these guys who are in the Hall of Fame."

Willie Roaf: "Tony Boselli was the man. When I was playing, he was the best lineman in the league. I respected Mark Tuinei and Erik Williams for the Cowboys. Joe Thomas is good. Michael Oher is good, though he struggled a little bit at left tackle because he's really a right tackle."

Randy Cross: "During my era there were a bunch of guys who were really good. John Hannah. Dwight Stephenson. Anthony Muñoz.

"I remember watching Stephenson play against Michael Carter, our nose tackle who was a bad sucker. Dwight just rag dolled him. He weighed about 250, maybe 260, and he's throwing this 315-pound D-lineman around like he's an eight-year-old kid. It was just weird.

"Muñoz negated everybody I ever saw him play against, except for Fred Dean. I saw him frustrate Fred some. But not many people frustrated Fred."

Ryan Diem: "Growing up, I watched Tony Boselli quite a bit. He was a special player. He was the prototypical tackle in physique, strength, body size, and ability. He had it all. He was fun to watch. I can't say I was able to do everything he was able to do, but I tried to model myself after him.

"Within our group, Tarik Glenn was pretty incredible. He had unbelievable feet and athletic ability for a guy who was 350 to 360 pounds. He was like a big old dancing bear, but his feet were so sweet. He moved quick. He made it look really easy. And it wasn't necessarily easy to do.

"Jeff Saturday was obviously a standout. He was kind of an undersized guy who was feisty and smart. I think a lot of our success was based on what he did and the way he was able to communicate with Peyton."

Bill Polian: "Gary Myers at the New York Daily News asked me to pick the top thirty players. The top offensive lineman on that list is Anthony Muñoz. He is the best I've ever seen. When we were looking at players, I used to joke with Dom Anile, our personnel director with the Colts, we weren't going to find him another Anthony Muñoz, because God only made one of those.

"Jim Parker is number two. That's where the list ends for offensive linemen. Looking at an earlier incarnation done in 1999 done by a blue-ribbon panel -- I was not among them -- but with the same kind of ranking, it listed Parker first, followed by Muñoz.

"Others on that list are Forrest Gregg, Mel Hein, John Hannah, Bulldog Turner, Art Shell, Rosey Brown, Bob St. Clair, Larry Little, Ron Mix, Jim Otto, Cal Hubbard, Gene Upshaw, Chuck Bednarik, Dwight Stephenson."

Jackie Slater: "I was exposed to one of the best who ever played when I came to the Rams in Tom Mack.

"I've never seen a center play better than Dwight Stephenson. From his position, he dominated the offensive line better than anyone I ever saw. As a center, he was the most dominant offensive lineman I ever saw play. I don't care what position they played.

"And there's big Bob Brown, who's a Hall of Famer. I would say Ron Yary and Art Shell. Later I would say Larry Allen. One of the best offensive linemen I thought I would see play was Erik Williams before his injury. And Gary Zimmerman with the Broncos and Vikings was very good. Randall McDaniel, Willie Roaf, Jonathan Ogden, Orlando Pace, and Walter Jones were very good, just to name a few. But I really can't recall the names of all the guys."

Kyle Long: "My favorite was Walter Jones. The guy I watched nonstop was Jahri Evans. He played my position. Aaron Kromer had film from the Saints readily available. I watched him until my eyes bled. Joe Thomas is about as consistent as they come. Marshal Yanda with the Ravens is up there.

"There's Jackie Slater from the lore I heard from my dad. Jackie came and spoke when I was at Saddleback College. He said an offensive lineman has to move laterally with great efficiency and give ground grudgingly.

"The only time I've been starstruck in the last few years was when I was at a signing at the Super Bowl. I ran into Jonathan Ogden. He dwarfed me. He's the nicest guy in the world.

"Larry Allen was physically dominant. I understand he is also a very nice guy. But if you pissed him off, he would embarrass you the entire game. He had the ability to go less than 100 percent and still win every time. When that 100 percent came out there were bodies scattered all over the field.

"Bruce Matthews could do it all. He could play left tackle, center, everything. And I love Mike Munchak. He's the best. Dad said those two were a bear to deal with."

Tony Boselli: "I'm very biased as a USC guy. But I don't think I'd get too much argument that Anthony Muñoz was the best to ever play the game. He was unbelievable.

"When I played, Jonathan Ogden was an outstanding, outstanding football player. He's bigger than I am, but he moved with grace. Walter Jones was great, athletic and powerful. He played effortlessly. Willie Roaf was able to do it for a long time at a high level. He was an outstanding player. During the time I played, those three tackles separated themselves from the rest.

"Larry Allen was maybe the most physically imposing offensive lineman you'd ever see. On film you watch and say no one else can move somebody like that. He was so powerful. He was unreal."

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Kyle Turley: "Man, there are so many guys. There are too many guys to name. And there are a lot of guys who aren't in the Hall of Fame who deserve to be there.

"Tony Boselli. The difference between the guys who make it to the Hall of Fame and the guys who don't is that one play, that one injury that ended their career and took away the years they could've played.

"I never saw anyone better than Boselli. Ever. A technician beyond anybody's capabilities. The best offensive lineman to play the game. Hands down.

"The most shocking punch I've ever seen from an offensive tackle was on the other side of the line from Boselli. Leon Searcy. Lethal.

"He had this thing where he would cock his arms back, lunge his arms forward at you, and punch a hole through your chest. He would give up one sack a game where the defensive guy had it timed just right and could pull on his jersey to get past him. But every other play in that game was a highlight reel."

Ryan Lilja: "Walter Jones and Will Shields were probably the best I've ever seen. And it's tough not to put Willie Roaf up there too. There was Tarik Glenn, the Dancing Bear, with his balance. These guys had the balance, athleticism, the quickness, the hand-eye coordination. The stuff you can't coach."

Tarik Glenn: "Willie Roaf is a freak of nature. He's my favorite offensive lineman ever."

Joe Thomas: "I wish I could watch more coaches' film from the '70s and '80s because there were great players. A guy in my generation can't go to the computer and pull up Anthony Muñoz. I want to say he's one of the best, but I've hardly ever seen him play.

"But the one guy that always sticks out in my mind of the guys that are roughly in my generation is Walter Jones. He is just different from anyone else who has played the position. You talk about Boselli, Ogden, and Pace. Those guys were fantastic players. But I still don't think they were on the level of Walter Jones. The things he could do without even trying were absolutely amazing.

"I don't know how many of these stories about him are true. But they say he ran a 4.6 in the 40 at the combine. He had like a 600-pound bench press and an 800-pound squat. Then in the summer he didn't work out at all. He pushed a car a couple days a week, he'd skip training camp, show up, eat a couple of steaks, then go out and block Dwight Freeney in his sleep.

"When defensive ends are rushing upfield, most tackles just want to push them past the quarterback. Walter would take them and run them straight to the end zone. Once he got his hands on them, they were like little rag dolls. You couldn't turn the corner on him. And he could do it just using his inside hand. He wouldn't even have to use his outside hand.

"He was on a totally different level."

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Going into the 1997 draft, I'd been sent on a mission to look at Orlando Pace and Walter Jones for the Seahawks. It had gotten so close to the draft we couldn't work them out. I watched the video.

Walter had incredible power and was a phenomenal athlete. And the way he finished blocks was amazing. He would take people and road grade them.

We brought him in to interview him. He has an almost retiring personality. Very quiet. I asked about his characteristic to finish people. I wanted to find out where he learned that. He learned it from his high school coach. That's where he learned to run right over the top of people.

The coach's instructions were, "Block him until your balls are in his mouth."

Comments

12 comments, Last at 15 Sep 2016, 5:18pm

2 Re: Book Excerpt: View from the O-Line

Interesting that so many guys mention Tony Boselli. I'd kind of forgotten how good he was when he was healthy.

Also interesting that nobody mentioned Dermontti Dawson, who I thought was the clear best interior lineman of his generation.

3 Re: Book Excerpt: View from the O-Line

Boselli probably would be in the HOF if he had stayed healthy for 3-4 more years. He only played 6 full seasons (and was 1st-team All-Pro in 3 of them), and then he sort of got caught in the wake of the Ogden/Pace/Jones group who were his contemporaries. There's a case to be made that he's something like the Terrell Davis of linemen, given how good he was. But then Davis isn't in either.

Dwight Stephenson is another good comp, because a) he gets mentioned a lot in this article too, and b) he only started 87 games and still got in (Boselli started 90).

9 Re: Book Excerpt: View from the O-Line

Well, Warner's not in yet, and Sayers has always been an outlier with a weak case on paper but who benefitted from a lot of those "you just had to watch him play!" testimonials and who got elected in a different era. I don't think Sayers could get in today, as Terrell Davis' case suggests. If I were on the committee I would probably vote for Boselli (because we need more linemen and fewer RBs/QBs in the hall), but I don't think it's a slam dunk.

I also think Boselli's chances suffer because he played in Jacksonville. If he'd played for the Steelers or Cowboys or one of the other marquee franchises, he'd have gotten a lot more support (Jimmy Smith and Fred Taylor have similar issues).

11 Re: Book Excerpt: View from the O-Line

Another way to look at it: as best I can tell, there are 27 OLs in the HoF who played a majority of their career after the merger. The fewest Games Started in that group is Stephenson, with 87; next is Jim Langer, with 110. Boselli started 90 games.

Using PFR's AV, the lowest post-merger total is Mick Tinglehoff with 61, but Tinglehoff played only about half his career post-merger. Tom Mack is next with 88, but he also had four pre-merger seasons. Russ Grim and Stephenson are next, on 90 and 91. Boselli had 70.

So basically the case for Boselli is Dwight Stephenson. Both great players with careers cut short by injury. Stephenson got in with about the same playing time as Boselli because he was widely regarded as the best center of his generation and one of the best ever at his position. So if Boselli was as good a tackle as Stephenson was a center (and a lot of people who know a whole lot more about offensive line play than I do seem to think so), then Boselli should be in.

As an aside, it's weird how position groupings can come waves. After Anthony Munoz (drafted 1980), only one HoF tackle was drafted in the next 12 years (Gary Zimmerman in 1986). Then, starting in 1993, Roaf, Boselli, Pace, Ogden, and Jones all entered the league in a five-year span. In the 19 drafts since then, there probably hasn't been anyone as good as any of those 5, except maybe Joe Thomas. I'd guess Jason Peters, Thomas, Andre Whitworth, and Willie Anderson are the best of the bunch. And Tyron Smith is off to a good start. Thomas is probably the only sure-thing HoFer electee in that group, although Peters will have a good case too.

12 Re: Book Excerpt: View from the O-Line

Yeah, Tinglehoff's best years really were pre-merger, before his relatively small size was more of an outlier, and before it became more common to put a tackle over the center. Butkus said Tinglehoff played him tougher than any other center. After the merger (Super Bowl !V was kind of a harbinger, with HOFer Curly Culp lining up across from Tinglehoff) he was still very effective, but not as dominant. Of course, in a very, very, long career, he never missed a start, or even a practice, which is extraordinary.

10 Re: Book Excerpt: View from the O-Line

Warner played two more seasons, was the best QB in one franchise's (CHI/StL/PHX/ARI) history and is second or third for another (LA/StL/LA), has 2 MVPs and a SB MVP.

Oh, he's not in the Hall yet.

Now, that said, I consider Warner and Davis not being in a traveshamockery. Boselli should probably be in, too. If only on the basis that there's a crapload of HoF or Hall-level guys who think Boselli is better than they were.