There were many fine performances at Alabama's pro day on March 13 in Tuscaloosa, but none so intense, so all-in, so loud as the effort put forth by Scott Cochran, the Crimson Tide strength coach whose Klaxon voice provided a frenetic, urgent sound track to the proceedings.
Make today count! Finish stronger! Speed! Speed! Speed! SPEED!
Cochran could moonlight as an announcer at monster truck rallies, yet even this chronic extrovert fell silent after Chance Warmack took his second turn at the vertical jump. With scouts and coaches from all 32 NFL teams watching, the 6'2", 319-pound guard exploded from his stance ... and was immediately snatched back to Earth as if by some invisible bungee cord. It was the least impressive vertical leap of the day. And yet scouts could not have cared less.
Teams don't need Warmack to dunk basketballs. They need him to be a road grader in the running game, a bridge abutment anchoring the pocket. He is a brute with a high football IQ, a technically proficient mauler with strong hands and sweet feet. And for that he could go higher in the draft than any guard since 1997, when the Saints took Chris Naeole 10th out of Colorado.
Warmack was one of a handful of prospective offensive and defensive linemen who agreed to pose shirtless for SI, revealing the raw clay from which tomorrow's All-Pros will be sculpted. And while a few looked conventionally athletic, most carried various layers of fat: over pectorals devoid of definition; around doughy midsections and pachydermlike posteriors. Photographed at various states of preparation for the NFL combine and pro days, some could just as easily have been girding themselves for hibernation.
That's neither new nor surprising. Standards of beauty vary from epoch to epoch, profession to profession. The plump models painted by Rubens during the early 17th century look nothing like the bodies seen, for instance, in SI's Swimsuit Issue. Likewise, most offensive line coaches can see the beauty in a Buddha belly jiggling over tree-trunk legs, and a backside the size of a backhoe.
"Your power comes from your hips and your ass, that's where your biggest muscles are," says one of those admirers, Joe Pendry, an O-line coach for 45 years in the NFL and in college, including Bama's 2009 championship season. "That's your power pack. Some guys got a gut sticking out over top of that, but they can still use the power pack. They can get the job done for 16 weeks."
But just how big is too big? Where does piling on the pounds reach a point of diminishing returns? LeCharles Bentley, twice a Pro Bowl lineman with the Saints in the 2000s, believes there are plenty of porkers who have eaten their way well past that mile marker. Bentley, who runs an academy for offensive linemen in Avon, Ohio, warns against "almost an epidemic of obesity" in the NFL. "A lot of the bodies you see in the league are soft. You don't have to look like a receiver to play offensive line. But it's critical to have correct body composition. You're not playing to your full athletic potential when you're that fat."
Thick and wide and blockish though he may be, Warmack doesn't fall into Bentley's danger zone. Indeed, beneath a layer of blubber, actual abdominal striations are visible. "I saw him with his shirt off at the combine, and he's kind of got a six-pack," says Larry Warford, a 6'3", 332-pound guard from Kentucky whose abdominal musculature is more comprehensively concealed. "I asked him, 'Why do you have a six-pack? How is that fair?'"
Warmack was a 300-pound ninth-grader who "skyrocketed"—his word—to 345 by his senior season at Westlake (Ga.) High. At Alabama, coaches told him to drop 35 pounds. After many early mornings of "fat boy camp" under the barked supervision of strength coach Cochran, he got there.