Do-it-all linemen find suitors at NFL combine

Ravens' Chester got boost from versatility

Pro Football

The Kickoff

February 23, 2007|By Bill Ordine | Bill Ordine,Sun reporter

INDIANAPOLIS -- When the Ravens selected guard Chris Chester in the second round of the NFL draft a year ago, the reasoning was a departure from the usual rationale for grabbing a big guy you expect to knock down other big guys.

Rather than dwell on size and strength, the Ravens gushed over Chester's athleticism. A converted tight end, the 6-foot-3, 305-pound Chester was singled out for his quickness and agility. And his versatility. He projects as an eventual center.

With the Ravens potentially seeking more offensive line help at the NFL scouting combine in anticipation of the April draft, it wouldn't be surprising if they wound up with another multitasking lineman.

In part, because that's the very category so many of the large fellows fall into - apart from the very top tier, such as Wisconsin's Joe Thomas, who, as a potential top-five pick, is viewed almost exclusively as a left offensive tackle.

More typical of low first-, second- and third-round offensive linemen is Tennessee's Arron Sears, who played left tackle as a senior but just about everything else as an underclassman.

"I played both tackles and both guards," the 6-3, 319-pound Sears said. " It helps tremendously being able to play both tackle and guard. If you know exactly what the tackle is doing on the left side, you should know what you're doing on the right and also the same with the guard positions."

Sears played three positions in a single game in 2004. Against Alabama, he lined up at left tackle, his normal position, and at both guard spots because of injuries to teammates.

In the NFL, the ability to grasp the duties and physically handle several positions is becoming increasingly important.

"They talk about it almost in every meeting I sit down in," Sears said of his conversations with NFL teams at the combine and Senior Bowl. "They like that a lot because guys do go down. The game of football today, everybody gets hurt and you've got to be able to step in and be able to help the team out."

Auburn guard Ben Grubbs has a resume that includes, like the Ravens' Chester, tight end. Grubbs has even played defense.

"I've played several positions since high school up until now, so I'm pretty versatile," the 6-3, 311-pound Grubbs said. "I think that's one of the advantages I have. ... I'm a 300-pounder but I'm still able to move and get to a second level and make certain blocks that maybe other guys can't make, so I would say being athletic is one trait that I have."

Grubbs said his speed helps him enjoy a guilty pleasure.

"I love to get out in space and pull," Grubbs said. "Pick on those little guys like the cornerbacks and safeties."

Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak said that while teams may try to fill specific holes with someone who fits a certain positional profile, such as left tackle, multipurpose offensive linemen are valuable commodities.

"When it comes to how many guys you suit on game day, whether it's seven or eight, you have to have guys that are versatile," Kubiak said. "And when you're fighting for a job on an NFL club and you have some versatility inside and can play both sides at tackle, it's going to help you stick with a football club."

Texas offensive lineman Justin Blalock, who started 51 games in his college career, more than any other player at the combine, is hoping he can overcome a liability for a tackle - his relatively short height, 6-3 - by having played both tackle and guard.

"Because of the limited roster size, you can dress [only] so many guys a game, [so] to have guys that can play both positions is just that much more valued," the 320-pound Blalock said. "So anytime they can find someone that is capable of playing four or five positions on the line, it's just an added bonus."

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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