- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
• Woody, 6'3" and 327 pounds, the rare tackle who began his career as a center (a first-round pick of the Patriots in 1999) and had the knowledge and quick feet to move outside as he got older. "I call him Twinkletoes," says backup tackle Wayne Hunter.
• Right guard Brandon Moore, 6'3" and 305, undrafted out of Illinois in 2002. He's strong (a 600-pound bench press) and smart (an undergraduate degree in English).
• Center Nick Mangold, 6'4" and 307, a 2006 first-rounder out of Ohio State and two-time Pro Bowl pick whose spatial awareness allows him to quickly process and point out defensive tendencies.
• Left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, 6'6" and 310, a 2006 first-rounder from Virginia who's so highly regarded by Sanchez that the quarterback brought him as his guest to a White House state dinner in May.
• Left guard Matt Slauson, 6'5" and 315, a 2009 sixth-round pick who played for Callahan at Nebraska and stepped into the starting job this year after veteran All-Pro Alan Faneca was cut in April. "There's definitely a lot of pressure there, taking over for Alan," says Slauson, at 23 the youngest of the starting five. "I have to make sure every week that there's no step-down at left guard."
The vets have not been gentle in breaking in Slauson. Last December, when he was a rookie, they made him host a dinner at Del Frisco's steakhouse in New York City. The bill reached five figures. "All I kept hearing from the guys all night was, 'This party sucks,'" Slauson remembers. "Then when I took Brandon Moore home, the toughest critic on the O-line, he says, 'Nice work, Slau. I had fun.'"
On the field the line's production is nearly equal to its output in 2009, when they led the league in rushing and ran all the way to the AFC Championship Game. Through Sunday they ranked third in rushing (150.7 yards per game), and the O-line has helped give Chargers castoff LaDainian Tomlinson new life at 31. "They allow me to get up on the safeties and get through that first wave of defenders," LT says. "It's something running backs cherish."
Says Ryan, "People say, 'Well, you have guys that are highly paid and a lot of Number 1 picks on the line.' That's not by accident. That's where the priority is. Keeping the quarterback upright, knocking holes in teams so you can run the football. That's what we have. It starts and ends right there."
Sanchez says the only negative about his talented linemen is the tab they run up at Del Frisco's. "It's not cheap," he says.
Callahan attended his first Mushroom Society meeting in the early 1990s, after hearing through the grapevine about an annual meeting of offensive line coaches. The clinics were started in 1983 by Jim McNally, who as the Bengals' O-line coach in the '80s helped mold one of the best units of its time.