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Thursday, October 14, 2010
Offensive linemen add substance to game

By Mike Sando

Thoughts after Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told his offensive linemen to end their media boycott:

Offensive linemen generally do not seek the spotlight, and vice versa, but their perspectives enrich our understanding of the game.

Anyone covering the St. Louis Rams can count on veterans Jason Brown, Adam Goldberg and Jacob Bell for insights on quarterback Sam Bradford, running back Steven Jackson or just about anything else.

Without Brown, for instance, we never would have known the story about Bradford's memorable first practice of training camp. Without Bell, we might not have known how Bradford compared to Vince Young in on-field demeanor. Goldberg can usually be counted upon for a grasp of the big picture.

Several years ago, when the Seattle Seahawks fielded the NFL's best line, no media session would have been complete without a stop at center Robbie Tobeck's locker. Perennial Pro Bowlers Steve Hutchinson and Walter Jones usually weren't as expansive, but anything coming from two of the all-time greats carried weight.

I remember speaking with Hutchinson after the 2001 season for a story about an emerging quarterback he knew from their days at the University of Michigan. Few gave New England's Tom Brady much of a chance against the Rams in the Super Bowl that year. Hutchinson knew better.

"My first year starting was '97 and I'd played with Brian Griese, and Tom really didn’t have much playing experience," Hutchinson said. "From the moment he got in the huddle (in '98), it was like he’d been there four years. He takes control of the huddle, he's always in control, a great leader -- one of the best on-field leaders I've been around."

OK, I thought. Maybe this Brady guy is better than people think. But let's have some examples.

Hutchinson recounted Brady's gritty performance against Ohio State during the 1999 season. Nothing was going right for Michigan. The Buckeyes built a lead and were coming after Brady with blitzes.

"At some point in the game, Tom comes back to huddle and his mouth is just pouring blood and it didn’t even phase him," Hutchinson said. "He just called the play. 'Damn, this kid is a cool kid from California. Some little surfer kid from California is playing with the big boys and holding his own.' Just there, I respected him. Not only is he cool, but he's tough, too. A lot of guys are either/or. He's got both."

These and other stories came to mind Thursday when Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told his media-boycotting offensive linemen they would have to follow NFL rules designed to promote public access to its product. There was never any doubt how this one would end. The only question was whether Carroll would have to intervene. When he did, the issue largely went away.

Most of the Seahawks' linemen seemed conflicted on the matter. Their former line coach, Alex Gibbs, had encouraged their silence in developing camaraderie and an us-against-the-world mentality. Players naturally wanted to please their coach.

When Gibbs quit before the season, two of his longtime understudies, Ben Hamilton and Chester Pitts, enforced the old code. Both reportedly conveyed their displeasure Thursday while the Seahawks made available center Chris Spencer and tackle Sean Locklear for their first interviews of the season. Hamilton declined to answer questions. Pitts kept his distance.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Pitts and Hamilton rank first and second, respectively, for the most holding calls against NFL offensive linemen since the 2002 season.

Pitts has 32. Hamilton has 29.

Hutchinson has five.

Following the rules is tougher for some than for others.