On the Redskins' Offensive Line, It's Still a Hog's Life
By: Gary Pomerantz
Category: Washington Redskins News
Sunday, Final Edition
Life's not always easy when you're a Hog, one of those grimy, crouched-over fellows on the Washington Redskins offensive line.
"During the preseason, Datsun called SuperHogs Inc. and told us they were interested in creating a 'Hog Hauler' pickup truck," right guard Mark May said recently. SuperHogs Inc. is a corporation created by several in the group in the offseason.
"Each of us would have gotten free use of one of the trucks for a year," May said. "Then we lose to Dallas in the opener and Datsun backs off. Maybe they thought we had lost what we had from the Super Bowl."
But these Hogs are enterprising sorts. Said May, "If Datsun doesn't make up their minds, we'll just go to Toyota."
Life's not always easy when you're a Hog and the Los Angeles Raiders are on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
Nearly a month ago, the Redskins' offensive line blocked and socked away in a ruffian world during the Redskins' remarkable 37-35 victory over the Raiders.
From Hog left to Hog right--left tackle Joe Jacoby, left guard Russ Grimm, center Jeff Bostic, May and right tackle George Starke (the group also includes tight ends Rick Walker and Don Warren)--comes the unanimous opinion that the Raiders game was the Redskins' most physical game of the year.
"The Raiders were pushing us, hitting us after plays and trying to intimidate us," said Bostic. "But that doesn't work against us."
Taped to Jacoby's Redskin Park locker is a picture of Raiders end Lyle Alzado with his hand extended through Jacoby's face mask, treating his nose like a doorknob. This scene appears even more excruciating than the one last Sunday, when Jacoby's helmet fell off and Detroit defensive end William Gay, out of frustration, kicked it 40 yards downfield.
"The two teams just went at it," Jacoby said. "When the Raiders took a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter, they started yelling at us. I guess I expected it. It's part of the game."
The primary opposition for the Hogs that afternoon was Raiders defensive end Howie Long, who had four quarterback sacks.
"I wasn't even playing against him. George (Starke) was," said May. "On the second play of the game, Howie Long comes over and is cussing at me. I went to Starke in the huddle and said 'George, who's he cussing at?'
"George said 'You.' I said 'Me? I'm on the other side of the field.' I didn't know what he was doing. Howie Long is deranged."
The Hogs' Super Bowl-inflated fame, they say, has turned defensive linemen surlier this year. "In the playoffs last year," said Grimm, "Minnesota said they'd come in and butcher the Hogs. This year, it's not anything that they are saying, but it's something we can read in their minds when we line up. The defenses are up for us."
"The thing is," said Starke, "teams come in knowing that they have to play a great game against us."
With a facts-are-facts expression, Starke said, "Otherwise, they know they'll get killed."
The Redskins offensive line has been a dominant force this year, knocking defenders into the mezzanine.
"They just blow people off the line," said Coach Don Coryell, whose Chargers play the Redskins Monday night in San Diego.
"I could talk about officials' calls or the Redskins holding or any number of things," Detroit's Gay said after the Hogs had opened holes that allowed running back Joe Washington to run for 147 yards in the Redskins' 38-17 victory. "But the truth is, their offensive line plays so well together, we just got frustrated."
The Redskins' offense glitters these days: running back John Riggins averages 94 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Joe Theismann has thrown 17 touchdown passes and only three interceptions.
The Redskins offense leads the National Football League in three categories: scoring (33.7 points per game), rushing yards per game (160.3 yards) and in time of possession (33 minutes 39 seconds).
Stats tilt this way because of the Hogs.
"You have to look at the entire game to get a feel for what we're doing," said Starke. "No, I don't think how many sacks you give up shows the strength of an offensive line (the Redskins have given up 17 sacks, sixth best in the league).
"Usually the best way to show a line's strength is to look at rushing yards. But that doesn't really work either. I mean look at (Chicago's) Walter Payton. He gained all those yards and his offensive line was terrible.
"It's just that we do so many things. Little Joe (Washington) runs downfield against Detroit and people ask, 'Why is he stopping?' The answer is because he knew the big boys were coming, that's why. That's one thing we (offensive linemen) do. We get downfield.
"There are some lines that can pass block, but not run block. We can do both. We're not extraordinary. You see, it's all in the coaching."
Joe Bugel is the Redskins' offensive line coach. "Our guru," said May. Usually when you're an offensive line coach, linemen swear at you. The Hogs swear by Bugel.
"We gave up 30 sacks in the (nine-game) regular season last year. For the quality of our line that was too much," said Bugel. "We try for a shutout (no sacks) each week now, even though that's probably unrealistic with all the blitzing defenses are doing these days."
Perhaps the most telling stat about the Redskins offensive line is this: among the five down linemen, none has missed a game due to injury in two years.
"We stress technique to prevent injury. We teach the best possible body position to receive and accept a blow," said Bugel. "When you're off-balance, there is a chance for injury. Woody Hayes stressed that when I worked for him at Ohio State (1974)."
It's not a coincidence, Bugel said, that the Redskins now rank first in rush offense and in rush defense. "Our defense makes us better.
"If you want to play physical, we feel you have to practice physical. We have to play guys like Dave Butz and Dexter Manley every day. If a team has a good rush offense, it should have a good rush defense, too . . . When we go into a game, we have to wear opponents out. The stat we really care about is time of possession. It's big to us. That means we're controlling the ball."
Consider the line:
Left tackle Jacoby is 6 feet 7, 300 pounds. He is a power blocker who faces the right end, a position almost always manned by the best pass rusher. Since most offenses are right-handed, Bugel said, they tend to run to the right side, causing the defense to place the end superior in run defense on that side and the end who is superior in the pass rush on the other side--Jacoby's.
"Left tackle is the toughest position on the offensive line," said Bugel. "Basically, you have no one next to you (on offense) and the speed rusher is lined up three to four yards outside of you."
Left guard Grimm is 6-3, 275 pounds. His knees and ankles ache. So does his shoulder. "Really, it's the perfect body for a lineman," said Bugel, in all seriousness.
"Some people say I have a 35-year-old body and George Starke has a 25-year-old body," said Grimm, 24. (Starke is 35).
"It won't cut down on how long I play. It will cut down on how comfortably I play," he said.
Center Bostic is 6-2, 250. He's in his fourth year, one year ahead of Jacoby, Grimm and May, seven behind Starke.
"Bostic has never been hurt and I don't know another center in this league who could say the same thing," said Bugel. Teammates kid Bostic, who is so pudgy they call him "The Doughboy."
"He's a great leverage player," said Bugel. "He gets his shoulder pads underneath the defensive guy's pads."
Left guard May is 6-6, 288. He won the Outland Trophy at Pittsburgh in 1980. He's a natural tackle, who likely won't play tackle until Starke retires. Starke said he wants to play a few more years.
"We knew Mark could play against the 4-3 (defense) when somebody lined up over him," said Bugel. "Now, he's learning to play against the 3-4, when nobody is over him and he has to go out, find someone and hit him. That's important because we pull our guards to lead all our screens."
Right tackle Starke is 6-5, 260. He's a full decade older than his Hogmates.
"You could hand feed the kids when we all came in together a few years ago," said Bugel. "But George had to break a lot of bad habits to fit into our mold. He was more of an assignment blocker than a technique blocker. You know, 'Just block a guy. I don't care how you do it.' We fine-tune guys, teach them how to pump their arms. George has a great deal of smarts."
Apparently, life's not always easy when you're a Hog and the world knows your number, but not your face. "People see me and always think I'm Bostic," said Grimm.
"People always think I'm Grimm," said Bostic.
When his face mask isn't getting infiltrated or heaved by defensive toughs, Jacoby still has it hard. As proof positive that being a Hog doesn't guarantee unmitigated glory, Jacoby said, "My size is kind of hard to hide. I was walking out the door of a mall the other day. Somebody saw me and the guy yells 'Hey, there's Dave Butz!' "
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