The 5 Toughest Linemen I’ve Ever Faced

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Gerald McCoy, Defensive Tackle / Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Players' Tribune

Yo, they got a comments section on this article?

If they do, cool. If not, then I want y’all to go find this on Facebook or Twitter or whatever, because I need everybody to answer one question for me. It’s a yes-or-no question, but you also gotta give an explanation. That’s important. It’s like when you took a test in high school. You must support your answer.

Here we go:

Is Batman a superhero?

I say definitely yes. But I’m biased. I got a life-size Batman statue in my man cave at home. He’s actually my favorite superhero because he’s just as powerful as the other superheroes, but he doesn’t have any superpowers. His greatest attribute is that he’s highly intelligent. He’s just a regular dude who always finds a way to get the job done.

That’s kind of how I look at myself as a football player.

A lot of people consider me to be a big guy. I’m 6′ 4″, 300 pounds or whatever, so I’m not a small human. But in the NFL, all the defensive tackles are pretty big dudes. And if you look at my combine stats, I didn’t have freakish numbers. I didn’t bench as much as other guys at my position. I didn’t run as fast. I didn’t jump as high. My numbers weren’t bad, they just weren’t freakish. They weren’t superhuman.

But when you watch me play, I figure out a way to get the job done.

That’s because I rely on things like my work ethic and my preparation. I try to be in peak condition so I can outlast guys in the fourth quarter. And I watch a ton of film so I can narrow down which plays might be coming based on the situation, the formation or the personnel — I just play the odds.

But my saving grace is my quickness and my get-off. And that comes down to technique. I’m a technician because I believe technique will win out over speed and strength every time. In this league, if you’re not the strongest, fastest or most talented, you gotta outwork everybody else. Outthink ’em. Outlast ’em.

You know, get you a little Batman in your game.

That’s why he’s my favorite superhero. Because he does the most with the least amount of tools. I can relate. So if you think Batman is not a superhero, then you can just get out. Don’t even scroll down and check the list. Just stop reading. I ain’t got time for you.

But either way, if you dig superheroes like I do, I got a good list for you, because these dudes are some metahumans. And I’m gonna kick it off by taking y’all back to college and highlighting a guy who introduced me to whole new world of athleticism.


Trent Williams
I grew up in Oklahoma. So when I got to OU, I only knew the athleticism I’d seen from guys coming up in my state. I didn’t know nothing about Texas boys.

So Trent comes to OU out of Texas at like 6′ 5″, 330 pounds. We’re getting ready for our first freshman workout, and we’re all just laughing and hanging out, trying to get some sprints in, and Trent’s talking about how he’s so fast.

I’m like, “You? Nah!”

And he’s like, “I bet I can beat you.”

So all the linemen get on the line and race … and Trent beats everybody. Leaves most guys in the dust.

I’m like, “Wait, wait, wait … hold up. I got a bad start, or you cheated, or something.”

So we get back on the line — just me and Trent, because I’m the only one who can’t accept that this dude is that fast — and we run again.

I don’t even think he’s human. He must be some kind of mutant or something.

And he beats me again.

So I’m pissed, right? It’s our first workout as freshmen, and I already got guys heckling me and giving me a hard time because I can’t seem to grasp the fact that I can’t outrun this 330-pound animal.

Then, come to find out, when we run our 40s, Trent’s the fastest lineman we got and it ain’t even close. I’m watching him run like, Gah-lee! I didn’t know a dude that big could run like that.

Texas boys, man.

And he was overweight when he came to OU, too. He wasn’t even in shape. Now he’s like 315 or something like that. So he might be even faster.

I don’t even think he’s human. He must be some kind of mutant or something. He’s got a big, wide body, really long arms and big, strong hands. When you’re going up against him, if he gets his hands on you, you’re in trouble, man. It’s not that he gives you that much of a punch off the line, it’s just like … he’s a basketball player, so he’s good at mirroring. He’ll just kind of stay in your way and let you come to him. And when you do, and he gets his hands on you, there’s no escape.

But that athleticism, man. To me, that’s what makes him the best left tackle in the league. When he turns it on, I don’t think anybody can get past him.

And you ever seen him pull, or get out on a screen?

Man, I feel bad for some of them dudes in the secondary when they see Trent coming. He’s a freight train.

 

He’s got some mean to him, too. He’ll finish you. He takes pride in punishing dudes. He wants to beat you and make you feel bad about it.

I went against Trent a lot in college, but ever since we got drafted in 2010, I’ve only played against his team a couple of times. And when I have, I’ve only really gone against him on double teams or when he comes out on a scoop block or something.

Which is cool with me, because I dealt with him enough at OU.

Now, I try to avoid him at all costs.


Zack Martin
I think Zack Martin is the best interior lineman in football.

Period.

He played offensive tackle at Notre Dame, and the Cowboys moved him in to play guard, which suits him best, I think. So he basically plays the guard position with the patience of an offensive tackle, which is pretty unique. Most interior linemen jump off the line and try and punch you right off the snap. But Zack is very patient. He’s not rattled by anything. You can head-fake, stab and grab, chop — none of it works because he doesn’t bite. He just sits back and waits for you to come to him, like a tackle would.

He’s also freakishly strong. If you try to bull-rush him, you might be able to get his feet moving backwards, but he’s able to regroup so quickly because he’s so strong and he has great feet. So he can use his strength to keep you engaged while he gets his feet back underneath him.

I remember last season on Sunday Night Football, on one of the first plays of the game, I got off the ball fast and I had Zack knocked back on his heels. It was an inside run play, and I got nosy and I looked into the A gap. I was thinking I was about to drop Zeke in the backfield — or at least set my one of my teammates up for a TFL

But as soon as I peeked inside, Zeke jumped outside to the B gap.

 

That peek inside was that little advantage Zack needed to reset himself and lock me down in the A gap, and Zeke ran through the B gap for a big gain.

The next day, Warren Sapp called me up and was like, “Man, what were you doing on this play?”

Lavonte David got on me about it, too, like, “Man, G, you never do that. What were you thinking?”

The margin for error is so small against a guy like Zack Martin. And that play just proves that you really gotta be on your game when you face him.


Marshal Yanda
In 2014, the Ravens came down to Tampa and just punished us. We weren’t winning a lot of games that year, and they went up like 28–0 in the first quarter. It was ugly.

I had never really faced Marshal Yanda before that, but I had heard about him from other guys — how he’s not the biggest dude or the most physical, but he’s a technician. You know, he’s got a little Batman to his game.

Marshal Yanda is like Tim Duncan … He’s a dude who just gets it done.

I learned about him for myself that day.

He’s a great run blocker. He keeps his pad level low. He’s got great footwork. He’s never out of position. His hands are always in the right place. He’s a lot like Zack Martin because he’s played a lot of offensive tackle, so he’s abnormally patient for a guard.

He doesn’t do anything crazy. He’s just super patient, he’s working his feet and his hands are in great position.

Marshal Yanda is like Tim Duncan. He’s not flashy or physically dominant. He’s just really intelligent and fundamentally sound. He’s a dude who just gets it done.


Kelechi Osemele
Kelechi was also with Baltimore when we played them in 2014, but he was injured so he didn’t play. I remember I got to talk to him after the game, and he said he wished he would’ve gotten the chance to play against me.

I respected that because I don’t shy away from competition. I wanna go against the very best every week. So ever since then, knowing that he had that same mentality, I’ve kind of wanted to go against him to see what he was all about.

Then, last year, we played the Raiders, and … you wanna talk about nasty?

Kelechi was flat-out mean. Not dirty, just nasty. He’s just the kind of dude who will slam you every chance he gets. They call him KO for a reason.

 

The best thing you can do against Kelechi is to get him moving his feet. Because if you don’t, and you let him get leverage on you … man, he’s gonna punish you. I mean, he’s 6′ 5″, maybe 6′ 6″, and like 330 pounds. He’s a space eater. But he’s also athletic. He’s super strong and he has huge hands.

Seriously … you don’t wanna lock up with him. But if you do, you better hope your hands are inside. Because if he gets his hands inside, it’s gonna be a long day for you.

See, what he does is, when he gets his hands inside, he waits for you to try and shed the block — to spin or twist off him — and then he uses your weight against you to put you on the ground. That’s his counter. He won’t grab you and swing you, like a hip toss, which would be a penalty. He just uses your momentum against you and straight slams you — just runs you into the ground. That’s legal, and he’s perfected it.

 

And if you try to get up, he’s gonna put you back down. He’s all about being violent.

I had a lot of fun playing against him last year, and I think he’s gonna be good in this league for a really long time.


Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks
I have to split my pick for this last one because I just have too much respect for these two guys, so I gotta include them both. They were actually my teammates in Tampa, but they’re two of the best guards I’ve ever ever played against in my life.

The first is Davin Joseph.

A fellow OU alumnus.

My first day of OTAs as a rookie, Davin came up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and he said, “Hey G, I’m glad you’re on the team. But we ’bout to go out here to this practice and ball. So just remember that anything that happens out here … don’t take it personal. It’s just football.”

I knew right then that I was going to have a long day ahead of me.

And when I tell you that Davin punished me for two years straight, I mean it.

Every. Single. Day.

On top of being on another level physically, he was one of the smartest linemen I’ve ever faced. He was the one who taught me about the hockey sweater.

You heard of the hockey sweater?

It’s when there’s a hockey fight and one dude grabs the other guy’s jersey and pulls it over his head.

So when you bull-rush a guy and you have your arms extended and all your weight is moving forward, you gotta keep your head up. Because if you don’t, the O-lineman will knock your hands down and let your momentum take over. Then he’ll reach over your head, grab the back of your jersey and push you face first into the dirt.

Hockey sweater.

Davin did that crap to me for two years before I finally learned to keep my head up.

He was always teaching me. He showed me what I was giving away with my stance, how to improve my footwork — I wouldn’t be the player I am today without Davin Joseph.

That’s it for Davin.

The last one is Carl Nicks.

When you got Davin Joseph on the right and Carl Nicks on the left, and you have to go against those two animals every day in practice, you’re either gonna get better or you’re gonna get cut.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I think he’s one of the best O-linemen to ever play in this league.

He just couldn’t stay healthy.

Carl was a modern-day Larry Allen. He was so naturally big and strong that he didn’t even really lift weights. He would just walk into the weightroom sometimes and ask who was lifting the heaviest weight, and he’d go lift that. And no matter what it was, he’d make it look easy.

And on the field … man.

When most guys reach-block, they open up their hips, take a step and then reach to get a hand on the outside of the guy they’re blocking. But Carl would just step and push in one motion. He would just grab your body and push you where he wanted you to go — and he’d do it with one hand. And that meant that he had his other hand free to help somebody else out, or chip a linebacker who was blitzing. It was like having a sixth offensive lineman. He was just on another level.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the year he came to Tampa was the year I made my first Pro Bowl. When you got Davin Joseph on the right and Carl Nicks on the left, and you have to go against those two animals every day in practice, you’re either gonna get better or you’re gonna get cut. There’s no being stagnant.

I just wish Carl would’ve never gotten hurt, man. Because if he hadn’t, he would have easily been in Canton when he was done — I mean easily.

That’s how good he was.


So that’s it. That’s my 5 … well, my 6 Toughest. Hope y’all enjoyed it.

But for real, though, don’t forget: Is Batman a superhero?

Answer @Geraldini93.

We need to settle this.

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