Fingers In The Dirt
I walk to the line of scrimmage. My eyes shift left and right as sweat drips down my brow. I collect my data. What’s the formation? The personnel? Is it a run or pass? So many clues. The same clues I saw on film. The direction the center shifts his head when it’s a run. The way the tight end moves his knee when it’s a pass. The way the receiver is wiggling his fingers. The way the guard shifts his body more to the right than the left. All clues. I put my fingers in the dirt. Adjust my stance. My heart is racing, but I’m calm. I’ve been here many times before. Thousands of times. The smell of grass is familiar to me. The cadence of the quarterback is like music to my ears. I know my job, and I do it. I know my part, and I play it.
The question now is, do you know my job? Do you know my part? Do you really know the role of a nose tackle? Most people just think, “oh a nose tackle is the guy that stops the run.” If you do your research, you will understand that it’s so much more than that. Are you paying attention to the plays that don't show up on the stat sheet? Do you notice how many times a nose tackle’s penetration forces run plays in another direction? Are you aware of how often I’m double teamed? Even at 33, other teams feel the need to double me on every play. That speaks volumes. Do you know the responsibility of a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense versus a 4-3 defense? Do you know what a gap is? The A gap, B gap, C gap? Do you understand gap discipline?
I’m not surprised if the answer is no. This general lack of knowledge from fans and sports media comes at no surprise. If you think about it, nose tackles are not celebrated in the “highlight culture” of modern sports. We are not the guys with the glamorous jobs. You don’t hear about us on SportsCenter often. You won’t see many nose tackle jerseys in the stores. When is the last time a nose tackle was selected as a starter for the Pro Bowl? How many of us are hired to work in sports media after retirement, compared to the number of skill position players? Have you noticed how hard it is to replace a great nose tackle in the draft, or free agency? Many teams go through multiple interior lineman in a short time span.
Playing nose tackle is about synergy and intuition. Great nose tackles are there to cover up mistakes the average fan or sports blogger doesn't notice. If a fellow lineman decides to jump a gap to make a big play, the nose tackle serves as the clean-up guy who's gap discipline must remain strong. Pay attention to the stats of linebackers and defensive ends when there's a great nose tackle in the mix. Notice how often these players make the Pro Bowl when they’re playing next to a great interior lineman.
When you study game film as a professional, you have an opportunity to see the game from multiple angles and evaluate players and plays more accurately. TV broadcasts tend to spend more time focusing on the "sexy" positions. When you watch the game on tv, the cameras follow the ball and focus on scoring plays. TV cameras don't zero in on the line of scrimmage unless there is a sack or turnover happening. The common spectator just sees commotion from the line when the ball snaps, but there are highly strategic exchanges, schemes, and stunts happening that will make or break a play in seconds. Some bloggers are evaluating the game through a stat-centric lens, overlooking a nose tackle's impact on the game.
At the end of the day, it’s an honor to put my fingers in the dirt. I do my part taking on double teams, holding down the line of scrimmage. I’m going on year 12 and my value as an NFL lineman is still highly appreciated by those that really know the game. To all the other people, do your research and stop hating.