'What happens out there is not nice'
By Ira Miller
SportsLine USA Pro Football Writer
January 24, 1996
This is a story about something that's big. Real big.
The Dallas Cowboys' offensive linemen.
You might have heard about them recently.
They have been in the news ever since the NFC Championship game, when Erik Williams' block from behind tore the knee of Green Bay's John Jurkovic and helped turn the game in the Cowboys' favor.
You might have been hearing about how Williams, in the same game, repeatedly clawed Reggie White in the face and never got called for a penalty.
YOU MIGHT HAVE BEEN
wondering what's going on here.
Let's face it. Football is not a game for the squeamish.
In every NFL locker room hangs a wall poster that shows and explains the legal way to hit an opponent. Some people call it the "Cecil poster" because Chuck Cecil, a veteran NFL safety, has been fined so many times for illegal hits.
With classic simplicity, Cecil once observed, "What happens out there is not nice."
When it happens with guys who, by themselves, could fill up a small country, it is even less nice.
"You could end someone's career doing that," Steelers nose guard Joel Steed said. "If they go after your knees or get a hand in the face, you've got to do the same thing. It's an intimidation thing."
DALLAS' LINEMEN CAN INTIMIDATE,
that's for certain.
Thirteen years ago, the Washington Redskins rose to the top of the NFL behind an offensive line nicknamed the Hogs, beginning a long string of Super Bowl domination by big, powerful NFC teams.
Those Hogs averaged 258 pounds a man. The Cowboys' linemen outweigh those chaps by more than 65 pounds a man.
"If the Redskins were the Hogs, what on earth are these guys?" asked Randy Cross, broadcaster and retired San Francisco offensive lineman who was taking in the scene the other day.
No one outside the Dallas organization knows what the Cowboys' linemen really weigh. Their listed weights average 323. But the weight of linemen in the NFL is a little like a woman's age, artificially reported low for vanity's sake.
CROSS PLAYED IN THE
Pro Bowl three times, though he never approached 300 pounds. He played on a 49ers' team that prizes undersized, nimble linemen. What Dallas has are oversized, nimble linemen.
"The happiest guy on that team is (left guard) Nate Newton because he is the smallest offensive lineman they've got," Cross said. "He's probably 330 pounds, and he's a piker."
Said Newton, (photo)
"Weight is not the issue. What's the issue is you're dealing with athletes. You're dealing with a lot of guys that happen to have big parents that produce big kids, and they can dance, they got good feet, they know how to get great leverage.
"The coach teaches the proper technique. A lot of people have 300-pound linemen. They just don't make as big an issue because their line is not as athletic as ours."
Yeah, Cross says.
YEAH, IT'S NOT THE
weight. And the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is all about fashion.
"I think people underestimate the athletic ability of most sumo wrestlers, too," Cross said, "but I don't think they're much of a threat in the high jump or long jump."
Whatever the case, Dallas throws its weight around pretty well. The Cowboys have not only the league's biggest line but its also the best. The Cowboys wear opponents down by beating on them. Emmitt Smith tends to get more yardage as the game wears on because defenders get tired from the pounding they take. In the fourth quarter of the NFC championship game, Smith scored two touchdowns and averaged 8.3 yards a carry.
In general, the Cowboys' big linemen -- tackles Erik Williams and Mark Tuinei, (photo)
guards Newton and Larry Allen, center Derek Kennard (photo)
-- give Smith plenty of running room and Troy Aikman plenty of time to throw.
But lately, the Cowboys are getting as well as giving. What they're getting is plenty of criticism ever since television replays repeatedly showed Williams in the NFC championship game.
"We play on the edge," Newton admitted. "We do shove sometimes extra. We do play hard. We do play physical."
OF COURSE, THEY DO
. Dallas relies on basic, in-your-face kind of stuff. Newton says the Cowboys have "a very simple offense" because they rely much more on knocking people down than faking them out.
Newton and Williams are Dallas' best-known linemen. Newton because he is popular and accommodating with the media. (Newton says of himself, "I'm the glue. I keep this ship going.")
Williams because at one time he was considered the NFL's best lineman. That was before he drove his car into a retaining wall at high speed midway through the 1994 season, nearly killing himself. He still hasn't made it all the way back.
Perhaps more than the others, Williams also sets the tempo for the Cowboys' linemen with his nasty streak, as he demonstrated against Green Bay. In the first game he played after his accident, an exhibition against Houston last summer, he belted an Oilers' lineman across the back of the neck with a hard forearm.
"That's how I play," Williams said. "I have to play like that. I couldn't play any other way. I have to be aggressive."
Pittsburgh players say Williams has turned more to borderline tactics to compensate for what he has lost since the accident.
IT'S A LITTLE REMARKABLE
the Cowboys' line has maintained its strength as long as it has because of all the players the unit has lost the past couple years.
In the three years since the Cowboys won their first Super Bowl, they lost offensive linemen Mark Stepnoski, Kevin Gogan and John Gesek to free agency. In November, center Ray Donaldson, who replaced Stepnoski, was lost for the season because of a broken ankle.
Kennard, a 350-plus pounder whose most notable asset is a huge rear end, replaced Donaldson and is considered the weakest of the Cowboys' linemen. His role in the Super Bowl is significant because he'll be asked to block Steed, a 300-pounder, one-on-one. The more often Kennard can do that, the more successful the Cowboys will be.
In fact, Dallas' favorite running play depends greatly on the ability of the Cowboys' linemen to execute one-on-one blocks. Smith might run this play, the lead draw, as many as 10 times a game, especially against a 3-4 defense.
With only three linemen, the 3-4 suffers even a greater size disadvantage against the Cowboys' line than the 4-3, which most teams now play.
On the lead draw, everyone in front of Smith simply blocks the nearest defensive player, and Smith looks for the hole. It usually is there.
"The lead draw is nothing but raw power coming at you," Newton said, "and that's basically what it is -- one-on-one blocking and seeing who's the best man."
Usually, the Cowboys win those battles, and that's why they usually win their games. In this case, bigger really is better.