Al Thompson
“When I step on the field, I do want to be great. I want to be one of those guys mentioned at the top at my position. It’s something I strive for every day.” – Marshal Yanda. Photo by Todd Bauders Contrast photography

NEW ORLEANS: It is one thing for a NFL player to receive accolades from an analyst. Most journalists will try to look at statistics, watch a player perform; see how his team racks up wins and measures the results of those elements to come up with a thumbs up or down.

It’s nice, but compliments from a former player, especially a veteran player who is paid to research film plus the aforementioned elements then measure all those factors against personal knowledge of how hard it is to play at the NFL level…well it’s just so much better.

When Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda was told NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger, a former offensive lineman who played in The League for 13 seasons, had said he thought Yanda was as good as it gets at the guard position, Yanda was obviously impressed.

“It’s nice to hear,” Yanda said from his riser at the Ravens Hotel in Downtown New Orleans. “Obviously people are seeing you and watching you, seeing you do great things. It shows that your hard work is paying off, that you are playing at a high level and people are noticing which is a good thing.The most important thing is that you are playing at a high level, not having bad games and stacking up good games. That is something…I have goals written down…one is to be a great player and I take a lot of pride in that.

“When I step on the field, I do want to be great,” Yanda continued. “I want to be one of those guys mentioned at the top at my position. It’s something I strive for every day.”

Yanda was drafted in 2007 in the third round out Iowa, a major college football program known for producing NFL prospects on the offensive line on a regular basis.

Some of the linemen who have blocked their way into the NFL include Robert Gallery, Brian Balaga, Ross Verba, Casey Wiegmann, Eric Steinbach, Mike Elgin, Pete McMahon, Mark Bortz, Joe Devlin, Jay Hilgenberg, Joel Hilgenberg (Joel Hilgenberg was recently inducted into the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame).

In all, 25 Iowa offensive linemen have been drafted into the NFL.

Yanda played in Junior College before finding his way to the team he had in his sights all along.

“I wanted to go to Iowa,” said Yanda, who hails from Cedar Rapids. “(Kirk) Ferentz was a line coach in the NFL for a while. He’s head coach at Iowa, but he is a lineman’s coach. He coached discipline when I was there. Also coach (Reese, OL) Morgan did a great job of developing linemen, coach (Chris, strength) Doyle helped with conditioning. Iowa is a great school for offensive linemen, no doubt about it.”

Yanda credited Coach Doyle for helping him catch up to the level he would need to play at for one of the elite offensive linemen programs in the country.

“I came from a junior college first then two years at Iowa, so I had a lot of catching up to do,” said Yanda, who is listed at 6-foot-3, 315 pounds. “He did a great job of preparing me those two years with lifting and using my body, with explosiveness and using your hips and using your force. (Doyle) put me on the field, got me faster, got me stronger and really helped me develop my game.”

Yanda was credited with holding New England’s massive defensive tackle Vince Wilfork in check in this year’s AFC Championship game. The Ravens outscored the Patriots 21-0 in the second half to make it to New Orleans. Many thought quarterback Joe Flacco could have worn a white tuxedo in the second half and it would not have a smudge on it.

“He plays big,” Baldinger said. “No one overpowers him. He gets to the second level better than anyone and makes everyone around him better.”

Yanda was honored in 2010 by Sports Illustrated as one of the NFL’s top linemen. This year he made the Pro Bowl for the second time.

The Pro Bowl has been under fire over the last several years because of its lack of intensity, lack of competitiveness.

Since it was played on the off Sunday between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl, Yanda was unable to play in the controversial game. He admitted it may be the best possible scenario for him.

“We had it on the other end last year,” Yanda said. “We went to the Conference Championship, lost then two days later had to pack up and head to Hawaii. That’s a tough deal when you make that far. This year we wanted to make to the Super Bowl. I didn’t want to play in (the Pro Bowl), I wanted to make to the big stage. That’s what we all work for.”

Yanda said the Super Bowl is a hype machine created by the NFL. He said he knows the key to dealing with it is to just submit to the idea that there is nothing you can do to stop it, so why bother?

“Sometimes it’s a little too much but you try and live in the moment as best you can as far as taking in all the experiences,” Yanda said. “We’re having a good time, enjoying it, but kind of ready to play football.”

The legacy of Iowa Offensive linemen is already smiling.

1 Feb 13 - NFL, Ravens - Al Thompson - No Comments