Offensive guards in NFL are mostly failed tackles. Arms not long enough? Feet not quick enough? Nerves not steely enough? No problem. Move him inside to guard, where there's a crowd, where there's plenty of help.
Jim Lachey, the Washington Redskins' left tackle, made that move in reverse. From 1981 to '84 he was a guard in Ohio State's meat-grinder offense. The pro scouts had other ideas. "Before I was drafted," he says, "the only position I worked out at was guard. I'd practiced at guard all week before the East-West Shrine Game. Then the morning of the game one of the coaches said, 'All the scouts want to see you at tackle. You'll start at left tackle.' I hadn't even taken any pass sets or anything at the position."
Lachey performed well enough in the game for the San Diego Chargers to draft him in the first round, the 12th pick overall, and install him as an immediate starter at left tackle, protecting quarterback Dan Fouts's blind side. What had the Charger scouts and coaches seen in the 6'6", then 280-pound Lachey? Well, tremendous athletic ability, for one thing. He had put the shot and been a 100-and 200-meter man at St. Henry's High School in St. Henry, Ohio, and a starter on a state-champion basketball team there. He had tackle written all over him. "I had no technique at all," he says of his move to left tackle, "no idea of the footwork. But Dave Levy was a really good line coach, and Ed White, playing next to me, had been in the league 17 years. They told me, 'Forget all that guard stuff. Everything's going to be brand new.' And it was. It was a blessing. I didn't have to unlearn bad techniques."
Lachey learned well. In 1985 he was awarded a spot on the NFL's all-rookie team. Three years later he was traded twice in the span of five weeks—first to the Los Angeles Raiders for tackle John Clay and a draft choice, then, after the first game of the '88 season, to the Redskins for quarterback Jay Schroeder and two draft choices. Beginning that season, Lachey was generally acknowledged to be one of the game's premier performers at left tackle.
It actually helped that he had been dealt to a team in the NFC East; he had to line up against such master pass rushers as Lawrence Taylor, Clyde Simmons, Ken Harvey and Jim Jeffcoat, and later Charles Haley. With TV cameras poised to isolate on some nifty sacks, viewers were instead treated to long looks at Lachey keeping the hounds at bay with some deft footwork and a seemingly effortless style.
"I love it when they call running back and wide receiver the 'skill positions,' " Lachey says. "If a running back takes a wrong step, he gains two yards instead of four. If we take a wrong step, you might as well write off the play. We are the skill positions for the big people."