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  • Brian Baldinger


Former NFL offensive lineman and current NFL Network on air talent Brian Baldinger reports from the OL Masterminds a the Star in Frisco, TX; the practice facility of the Dallas Cowboys.

In a world that is dominated by the restrictions to try and corral the nasty COVID-19 virus, it is next to impossible to plan a graduation party, a summer backyard barbecue, or just an evening at a nice restaurant with your love ones.

So the third annual Offensive Lineman Summit was surely in doubt.

Especially when it was not a "zoom" event, but a real live conference at the Star in Frisco, TX.; the practice home to the Dallas Cowboys.

How could anyone risk the travel, the interaction, and the safety concerns to talk "BALL' in the dead of summer in Texas?

I even traveled my own doctor who set up a COVID-19 testing center where 26 players were tested....all were negative including myself.

On July 10-11, 50 or 60 of the biggest names in NFL and college football came to do just ball.

And I was happy to be among the players and the conversations. Before I write about my experience during the two-day summit, I want to stress that many of the COVID-19 parameters were followed.

Tables were spaced at on the second floor of the Omni Hotel in one of the banquet halls meant to be able to normally seat 1500 people. Masks were worn. Social distancing was practiced.

This event is led by two people.: Duke Manyweather, an offensive player and coach who has specialized in training many of the offensive lineman in the NFL today and the all-pro right tackle from the Philadelphia Eagles, Lane Johnson.

Together they helped grow this event over the last three years that was well represented by many of the league's finest trenchmen. A vocal leader throughout the event was the pro-bowl left tackle from the Saints, Terron Armstead. Terron comes from the powerhouse college football program called Arkansas Pine-Bluff.

He entered the league in the same season as did Lane Johnson, 2013

Also at left tackle in the Summit was Cam Robinson from the Jaguars and massive rookie from the Jets via Louisville, Mehki Becton. All 6-foot-8, 368 pounds of him with a smile and a personality that could light up the Texas sky.

Billy Price from the Bengals was at a table next to Cam Erving from the world champion KC Chiefs. At another table were members from the Oklahoma Sooners offensive line who will soon be drafted by an NFL team. High school coaches and college coaches floated around the banquet tables absorbing the nuggets of information and techniques.

This is how the OL Masterminds Summit was set up. Players appear to keep good separation as Lane Johnson addresses players. Photo from Brian Baldinger

My first player that I met was when we pulled up to the hotel and were greeted by George Fant, newly acquired offensive tackle of the Jets via the Seattle Seahwaks through free agency.

George entered the NFL in an unusual way. He starred on the Western Kentucky Basketball team for four years.

With a year of eligibility left he was coerced to spend his fifth year playing tight end for the Hilltoppers after many offers to play pro basketball in Europe.

He was signed by Seattle as a free agent and went on to start 24 games for the Seahawks. He was very excited to meet his new Jet teammate, Mehki Becton. In this quarantined world they had never met until this summit.

Perhaps this event is even more important now since no players have worked out together since the lockouts with teams has been so enforced.

I really enjoyed listening to and interviewing Ryan Jensen from the Buccaneers. Naturally our conversation turned to Tom Brady. He has started 48 straight games for the Bucs and Ravens and was surprised when he met Brady for the first time at a park in Tampa how much Brady had to tell him about how he likes the snap of the ball.

In fact in every session that they have had Brady has told him about when the ball is wet, shotgun snaps, under center snaps, pulling to his left on goal line plays. The tutorial that Brady has taught him this spring in limited Park Action lets you into the mind of Brady

I guided many players through some Film Sessions against some of the league's best pass rushers like Kalil Mack and Von Miller amongst others and the techniques used to combat the array of moves that they attack with. How to handle silent counts in noisy stadiums.

The necessary non-verbal communication when plays are changed at the line of scrimmage.

It was fascinating to learn how a guy like Armstead has gone from young pup on the O-Line to the senior citizen in 8 years and how his role has changed.. Since he has arrived he has played with the following #1 draft picks.

In 2015 Andrus Peat came form Stanford grad has been entrenched at left guard next to Armstead. in 2017 they took Ryan Ramczyk out of Wisconsin after starting only one season there. Last season they drafted Eric McCoy with their first pick to become the starting center.

And this past draft they used their first pick on Camden, NJ's own Cesar Ruiz via the University of Michigan. McCoy is now going to right guard while Ruiz is being penciled in as the starting center.

I mention this because the Saints have had a great O-Line over the last decade. But in a "Pandemic World" how quickly can any offensive line come together without mini camps, pre-season games, and limited practices. Those were some really interesting conversations. A young player from the Eagles, Matt Pryor, was taking notes throughout the two-day summit.

Now that Jason Peters has been resigned to play right guard it puts Pryor as the lone backup on the Eagles roster who has started A GAME; the playoff loss to the Seahawks a year ago. Pryor will be asked to backup every O-Line position except center.

The discussions on playing through injuries and how to care for injuries was invaluable.

Lane Johnson talked how his badly sprained ankle from a year ago is still swollen but a lot of work on it this off season has him confident that the ankle is actually stronger than ever.

I am glad I attended this event and will mark it on my calendar every year. The game continues to evolve and with it has so many of the techniques and fundamentals. Armstead and Johnson are both entering their 8th season and share 5 pro bowls between them.

But how they approach games, moments in big games, and the players they are paid to keep off their franchise quarterbacks are completely different. What works for one doesn't always work for the other.

I started this column talking about the precautions taken to put this summit on. Every team is trying to simplify the playbook this off season so that they can make up for six months of lost work in the class room and on the field.

Whomever can put the best and cohesive offensive line together by September 13th is going to have a major advantage in winning games early during these challenging times. Spoken and written lie a past offensive lineman. and now a smarter on after attending my first OL Masterminds Summit. *

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