Massive bodies are flying, falling like timber. Holes are opening for running backs or a quarterback is being protected, or, maybe not so much. And, in the center of it all, is … the center.
That certainly looks like controlled chaos going on in there, but the guys in the middle of the mess say that’s not exactly so for what is probably the offensive line’s most complicated position.
“It can be (chaotic) sometimes,’’ Carl Saunders, in his second year at the position, said. “You play your technique. You play sound and do what the coaches tell you to do and you’re good from there. For centers it’s like any other position on the line. We’re watching linebackers, we’re watching d-linemen, trying to pick up stunts and we’re just like the rest of them from then on.’’
Redshirt freshman Logan Williamson, who rotates with Saunders, says when the ball is snapped normalcy actually sets in.
“The chaos starts before the ball is snapped,’’ he said. “We’re trying to calm the chaos. Everyone is looking at us to calm the chaos, to get everybody lined up, to know where the linebackers are and know exactly where we’re going. It looks messy, but my job is to make sure it’s not messy and the people around me are as least confused as possible.’’
Indeed, most of the center’s work begins as the huddle breaks and before the ball is snapped.
“They have to set the entire offensive line,’’ line coach Andy McLeod said. “They have to identify what the defensive front is, what the linebacker sets are and they are the center point of everything that goes on in our blocking scheme for both the run and pass protection. They’ve got a lot to do pre-snap and they also have to get the ball to the quarterback and still be able to be a functioning member of the line society after they get it back there.’’
Getting the ball to the quarterback is the most critical of all the functions, according to former center and now tackle Tramell Williams.
“(A fumbled snap) is always the center’s fault,’’ Williams, who transferred from South Carolina, said. “It’s always going to be the center’s fault. He’s the quarterback, they’re going to blame it on the center.’’
McLeod seconds that.
“Our going quote is “if the ball’s on the ground it’s our fault’’,’’ he said. “It’s never going to be the quarterback’s fault and we’ve got to make sure we understand that. It’s our job to make sure we get it to him.’’
McLeod believes that while centers get blocking help (generally with a guard) once the ball is snapped, they have other issues needing attention.
“The problem with center is we use a lot of shotgun snaps so you have a lot of backward momentum going,’’ McLeod said. “You’ve got to be able to get backward and forward very quickly. They also have to be able to predetermine the snap count in their head from the standpoint of they have got to go on that first syllable of the cadence because if they’re a little late with the ball everybody’s in procedure penalty.’’
Despite the pressure of the job, both Saunders and Williamson say they wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
“I like center better than when I played guard and tackle,’’ Saunders said. “You have to be on your game. I put in my work, I study film and I like to show it on Saturday.’’
Williamson likes that he’s on the hot seat on the field.
“I’m controlling everything out there and people are looking to me and I like that,’’ he said. “I love center because I’ve got my hand on the ball, baby. I like being a leader.’’
- Jim Nasella