Chargers Minicamp: Line Focus

As usual, the technique of the offensive line is often ignored when looking at the San Diego Chargers. It isn't that they are not appreciated, they are. But they don't provide the glitz and glamour that quarterbacks, wide receivers and defensive backs have in a minicamp setting. They are, however, just as important. So this minicamp notebook goes out to the guys in the trenches, the fellas who truly make it happen.

One of the more interesting things that goes unseen at camp is offensive line coach Hudson Houck at work with his minions. Coach Houck is methodical in his approach and besides preaching the fundamentals, ensures they master the technique before moving on.

He expects his unit to hit the sleds with authority and the pads with vigor. Anything less is a redo until his appetite for perfection is satiated.

As mentioned Friday, David Brandt, Nick Hardwick and Isaiah Ross are working out at center. Teaching them to block on the second level is one of their primary responsibilities.

They need to be able to help push off on a rushing defensive tackle and drive forward into a linebacker. It is what makes the classic battle between a center such as Kevin Mawae and Zach Thomas memorable. Before a Jets vs. Dolphins game they will each be interviewed and profess respect for the other.

That is the kind of center Houck is trying to mold in San Diego. While they are a long way from the Pro Bowl status of Mawae, there has been progress.

They are just beginning to take the knowledge and apply it on the field. In full scrimmages, several plays they practiced in individual sessions bloomed in action. Just minutes before the unit was testing their wares versus each other and then translating it onto the defensive line. The middle of the line worked well despite the inexperience.

Brandt, in particular, has made it his mission to make the team. The team has been pleased with his progress and the reason why was evident today. Brandt was going all out in his individual coaching sessions. He struck each blow to his fellow linemates blocking pads with conviction and used his legs to drive them out of any play.

The effect pushed him into a significant number of snaps with the first team offense. It also will put him in the sauna early today as his body sores from the grueling workout. Brandt was seen several times bending over in what looked like pain, but he did not stop abusing the people he faced.

The scream of "Huddle!" came from the healthy lungs of Brandt as he bellowed for the rest of his line to hear. It was the role of leader he has grasped onto quickly. The sponge award goes to Nick Hardwick. The rookie center from Purdue was inquisitive of his coach and when other players were doing their drills it was Hardwick looking over their shoulders to get pointers. He showed a desire to learn and when he was unsure he asked questions.

He knows that his coach will make him better and is more than happy to be the teachers pet.

"I know he has been a real successful coach," Hardwick said of Coach Houck. "He was a center himself at USC. He coached Tony Munoz, Mark Stepnoski and a bunch of All Pros. I am pretty excited to work with him."

Houck has a way of spinning yarn into gold. He has earned respect around the league as one of the best in the business at his job.

And now with the highly publicized absence of center Jason Ball, each lineman has a chance at more. Hardwick could find himself in an enviable position when the season begins, a starter for the San Diego Chargers.

On Saturday and Sunday, Hardwick was making his key reads for the rest of the line, picking out where the blitzer looked to be and passing that info along. For a man who has only played the position for a couple of years, he is acting the part of professional football player. There is still a ways to go before anyone is ready, but the repetition without Ball at camp certainly helps. And the one noticeable problem that was quickly fixed was the botched center to quarterback echange of Friday. Saturday and Sunday the exchanges went without a hitch.

"I am a quick learner," Hardwick said.

And he may have to be.

A harder look at the offensive tackles will follow this week

Denis Savage can be reached at denis@sandiegosports.net

SD Super Chargers Top Stories