HOG HEAVEN; Offensive line brings home the bacon for Redskins
By: Jim Souhan
Category: Washington Redskins News
There are good reasons why Joe Gibbs is the NFL coach of the year. He possesses vision. Patience. Foresight. Insight. So when the now-famous Hogs first lined up together as piglets in 1981, Gibbs knew.
He knew they wouldn't make his team.
"Jeff Bostic was a deep snapper, and we thought, well, hey, we've got to replace him, we can't have somebody running around who's just a deep snapper," Gibbs said last week at Redskins Park. "And he goes to the Pro Bowl as a center. We drafted Russ Grimm to play center, and Bostic did so well we moved Grimm to guard, and he becomes a Pro Bowler. We started with Mark May at tackle, and later moved him to the other side.
"Joe Jacoby was a free agent that I tried to run off without a contract because I didn't know who Joe Jacoby was, and he winds up being an All-Pro tackle. That shows you what I know."
Eleven years later, Bostic still starts at center. Jacoby still starts, although he has proven you can teach old Hogs new tricks by switching from left tackle to right tackle to wherever else they need him. He has played mostly at right tackle this season.
Former backup Raleigh McKenzie has taken over at left guard. Two relative newcomers - All-Pro left tackle Jim Lachey and first-time Pro Bowl guard Mark Schlereth - have made an already formidable group one of the most heralded units in pro football, along with the 49ers' receivers and the Eagles' defensive line.
The Hogs are one of the biggest, beefiest reasons the Redskins will play in their fourth Super Bowl in nine years Sunday at the Metrodome. This season, they helped the Redskins finish fourth in the NFL in total offense. They cleared the way for Earnest Byner's 1,000-yard season and, more impressively, held opponents to just seven sacks of quarterback Mark Rypien, and nine total.
"I have to give them most of the credit for our offensive success," said Byner, who has made two straight Pro Bowls running behind the Hogs. "They've had great pass protection all year, along with the running backs. As long as they do their job, whoever's in there is going to be successful. And if they're not doing their jobs, I don't care if you have Houdinis in there, they're not going to be successful."
Even Doug Henning could make positive yardage behind these guys. Consider the choice bacon on hand:
Former Head Hog Joe Bugel - now the Cardinals' head coach - tried to run off Bostic a few years ago, but Bostic hung onto his job and had a Pro Bowl-caliber season in 1991. He's considered the leader of the group.
Jacoby, whom Gibbs once mistook as a defensive tackle, played guard and tackle, and excelled at both positions. Despite his 300-plus-pound frame, he's agile enough to pull and block on the Redskins' key counter-gap and counter-trey plays.
Lachey, the best left tackle in the game, came to the Redskins in one of former general manager Bobby Beathard's best deals - the one that sent disgruntled and unproven quarterback Jay Schroeder to the Raiders in 1988. While Schroeder's ability has been constantly questioned, Lachey has become one of the Redskins' most valuable players.
Schlereth is one of the game's best young guards, along with the Vikings' Randall Cunningham and the Raiders' Steve Wisniewski, and could be All-Pro caliber in two seasons.
Raleigh McKenzie, once considered a top backup, has proven his worth as a starter as the line broke the team record for fewest sacks allowed in a season.
"This offensive line is as good as the ones in the early '80s, I think," said Redskins linebacker Matt Millen, who played against the Hogs throughout the '80s. "They're probably stronger at the guards, because I would take Raleigh McKenzie over Mark May, and Russ Grimm and Schlereth are both the same kind of player. I think, in time, with no injuries, Schlereth will have as good a career as Grimm has had - and let me tell you something, Russ Grimm is one of the best guards I've ever played against."
Now he's one of the Redskins' key backups. Guard Mark Adickes played a key role as a backup this season after deciding not to leave for several lucrative Plan B offers. Ed Simmons began the season as a starter, but couldn't win his job back after the line clicked without him. Grimm, an original Hog, is in effect a player/coach, a role the real coach appreciates.
"I think the difference in the offensive line, as opposed to other units that haven't stayed as productive for so long, is that other good young players have come along, like Lachey and Mark Schlereth," Gibbs said. "And we have people like Rollo (McKenzie) who have stepped in, and it's been a great transition. You've had good young players coming in and taking the starting roles, and some young guys like Russ Grimm taking backup roles, which is the perfect way to have it."
It was Grimm who inspired the line's nickname. During one particularly wet practice in the early '80s, Bugel told him he looked like a hog slopping around in the mud. The name stuck, and success followed.
What has become apparent in recent years is that despite their size, the Hogs are agile, active athletes. The Redskins' offense depends on their ability to provide moving pockets and to pull and run ahead of counters and sweeps.
"I think what has helped them gain recognition is that the media and TV has started showing exactly what these guys do," Gibbs said. "Now you've got instant replay and people who can focus the cameras, and highlight a lot of positions that went hidden for a long time. Now you've got closeup views of linemen getting great blocks, and I think people get a greater appreciation for it. It's helped to expose the fact that some of the best football is line play."
But football is just one Hog hobby. Almost every day after practice, they convene at a shed behind Redskins Park for The Five O'Clock club, which, Adickes said, doesn't spend much time reviewing minutes. "We just all get together after practice and have a few cold ones and talk and play cards," he said. "We don't even always talk about football. We just hang out."
There is one problem with the Hogs hanging out in the Twin Cities this week, in this Super Bowl. They do not belong on turf. The Metrodome will not be Hog Heaven.
"Hogs live on grass, and love the mud," Adickes said. "That's one of the reasons I wanted to keep playing in RFK. Hogs do not thrive on artificial turf."
But this is one of many cases in which the Hogs might resemble 800-pound gorillas. Usually they thrive wherever they want to.
Jim Lachey (79) / Tackle, Ohio State, 6-6, 290, 7th year. Fun fact - Started as a sophomore forward on his state championship high school basketball team.
Mark Schlereth (69) / Guard, Idaho, 6-3, 285, 3rd year. Fun fact - First Native-born Alaskan to play in the NFL.
Jeff Bostic (53) / Center, Clemson, 6-2, 260, 12th year. Fun fact - Was a state wrestling champion (187 lbs.) in Greensboro, N.C.
Joe Jacoby (66) / Guard/tackle, Louisville, 6-7, 310, 11th year. Fun fact - Received the nickname "Jake the Quake' in 1984 after falling on a fumble by the Vikings in the end zone, becoming the first lineman in Redskins' history to score a touchdown.
Raleigh McKenzie (63) / Guard/center, Tennessee, 6-2, 270, 7th year. Fun fact - His twin brother, Reggie, born three minutes earlier, was a teammate at Tennessee and played for the Raiders and Cardinals.
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