Baptism by fire for nine rookie O-linemen

We’’e seen the numbers grow in recent years, but since the merger in 1970, we’ve never seen as many rookie offensive linemen start in Week 1 like we did this past week.

Nine rookie linemen got a little baptism by fire with starting assignments in the opening week: Two in Buffalo (guards Eric Wood and Andy Levitre), two in Jacksonville (tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton), one in Baltimore (tackle Michael Oher, one of five candidates for Pepsi Rookie of the Week), one in Seattle (guard Max Unger), one in St. Louis (tackle Jason Smith), one in Minnesota (tackle Phil Loadholt), and one in San Diego (Louis Vasquez). A 10th, New England’s Sebastian Vollmer, played left tackle for seven plays when Matt Light moved to tight end.

I asked some of the coaches at Dallas’ Highland Park High School, the one that produced Matthew Stafford, how much time they spend on pass protection these days. They told me about a third of their practice time is devoted to pass-protection drills. I asked them how that compared to 10 years ago and was surprised a little by the answer: Less than 10 percent of the time.

It’s no different at the college level. There’s so much more emphasis in pass protection these days, especially with the proliferation of the spread offense, that teams spend an inordinate amount of time on pass protection.

“We don’t have our linemen practice with both hands on the ground, like we did when we ran the wishbone,” one prominent college coach told me.

The results of that shows in the draft and on NFL depth charts. Teams are loading up on linemen early in the draft (18 in the first round over the last three years), willing to pay them the big money because they know most will be ready by Day 1.

Gil Brandt

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