Florham Park, N.J.– It’s always the skill-set position players that get the attention, the fame and the glory. When an offensive player starts to put up big stats, everyone sits with baited breath for said player to immediately be inducted into the hall-of-fame.
When you think stats, your thinking rushing/receiving yards and touchdowns, but what about those big guys up front doing the grunt work to allow their teammates to shine? Go to any of the major website that covers football and click on the stats section. What you will see are the stats for quarterback, running back, receiver/tight-end, defensive lineman, linebacker, defensive back, kickoff and punt returner as well as field-goal kicker, punter and even just kickoff kicker. So that covers every single player on the field, because it’s not like offensive linemen actually contribute to the game or anything right?
Sure there are websites out there whose sole purpose is to breakdown more specifics stats such as teams offensive lines, but even most of those fail to have stats for each and individual player on the line. After all many fans only know what a ‘pancake block,’ is because they learned it playing Madden.
So the skill-set players will always get the glory and praise, but it’s just as important to give an offensive lineman his just due. Because without that offensive lineman doing his job, there would be no glory to be had by anyone, but the opposing team.
The Jets offensive line is filled with elite players, but with the departure of Alan Faneca this offseason a big question mark was raised, who was going to fill Faneca’s void? After a little training camp battle with Vladimir Ducasse, Matt Slauson earned the right to attempt to fill Faneca’s shoes, now he is comfortably walking in his own shoes and making a name for himself on this star-studded offensive line, well as star-studded as an o-line can get at least.
It wasn’t just the fans and the media who had concerns about how smoothly it would work. It’s not that the players didn’t have confidence in Slauson and Ducasse, it’s just that with them your dealing with unknowns and that always causes some concern. Alan Faneca had been to multiple pro-bowls and here was Slauson just entering his second season after being drafted out of Nebraska.
When asked if there were concerns among the players, fellow o-lineman Damien Woody said, “I think initially, because number one, he didn’t have any game experience. When you go from a guy like Alan, whose, I mean played so many games, been in the wars and won Super Bowls. I could go on and on about the accolades and stuff like that and to go to a guy that’s never played a snap in the NFL really. You know, initially your thinking that’s a big drop-off, you don’t know exactly what your going to get.”
As the clock wound down to the final minutes before kickoff of the first game, the fans, media and teammates weren’t the only ones concerned, Slauson was also as well.
“The first game I went in I was terrified and then to have the lightning-delay was even worse, but I don’t think that’s every really going to go away.” Slauson said, “I think I’m going to see every opponent as a beast and I’m going to be scared and intimidated by it, but where I think I’ve grown is I’ve grown so much in confidence that I can go out and play my game instead of letting the defensive guy play his and react off of him.”
Woody thinks Slauson is a beast in his own right, or in Woody’s words he’s a brawler. “I’ve always said Slauson is like a brawler, one of the types of guys that you put him the telephone booth and he’ll just beat you up and that’s his game. He’s a mauler, he’s a fighter and he’s battling his tail off and the transition has been pretty smooth for him and that’s a credit to all his hard work, film study. You know, just being coachable and just really having the mindset to be a really good offensive lineman.”
It’s safe to say those early concerns Woody talked about are nowhere to be found now.
When asked about the difference in Slauson’s play now as opposed to early in the season Rex Ryan said, “You can’t buy experience. I’ve got news for you, Haloti Ngata makes everybody look average. He’s got a chance to be Defensive Player of the Year in my opinion. That’s who he got beat by. That list is long with whoever you want to put on it. I think he’s as good a left guard as there is in our division. When you put him up against the Miami kid, (Richie) Incognito, and the kid from Buffalo is a good player (AndyLevitre), a short arm guy, he’s probably the best. I think Slauson is right there with him. The New England guy, if they get (him) back, Logan Mankins, will be clearly the best left guard. Slauson, right now in my opinion, I’ll take him with any of these guards that are in our division.”
Slauson may have been admittedly nervous going into that game against the Ravens, but now that it’s over with he thinks it helped to be thrown into the fire, drawing Ngata in his first game. “I think it helps a lot and something I found week to week is there really are no scrubs in the NFL, but to go against a multi-time prow bowl guy, a seasoned vet, I think it was huge, because it was a great test for me.” Slauson said, “Because like, okay how am I going to match-up against a guy that’s the best in the league at his position and I feel like aside from that one play I feel like I did well and that helped immensely with my confidence.”
Slauson is quick to acknowledge the talent, experience and knowledge that surrounds him and he doesn’t hesitate to lean on them for advice or to help make his job easier.
“Well, you know, Nick and D’Brickashaw are the best in the business. Again multi-time pro bowl guys and Nick is probably the smartest center I’ve ever played with.” Slauson said, “So playing next to him is so easy, because I know who to block every single play and I’ve done a lot of study work over the offseason and I put a lot of time and hours into looking at the film, so as soon as Nick makes his initial call I know exactly where to go and even if I don’t, Nick is right there to say, ‘you have this, your going to do this,’ and I know what he means by it.”
Slauson is clearly growing more comfortable and everyone around him, media and fans included, is noticing his elevated level of play.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said, “He’s gotten better every week. We’re asking him to do more stuff now than we were. There were some things we were doing early in the season where were sending a lot of help to him, but quite honestly, we’re away from a lot of that stuff. You see a guy playing with more confidence. The one thing with Slaw that showed up a little bit throughout the spring and training camp was that he tends to get overextended at times, and guys can get by him with a quick move. He’s much more balanced now and he’s playing with his feet up underneath him. I think that comes from the fact that he and Bill (Callahan) have spent so much time working together.”
Mangold responded to being asked about Slauson’s progression saying, “You know, we’re only as strong as our weakest link and Slauson is doing a good job of not being that weak link. He’s not making many mistakes twice and that’s a good thing, that’s what we ask for and he’s coming around.”
Of what he has seen in Slauson’s improvements Mangold said, “Just learning things and getting experience. You can know everything inside and out, but you know, you got to have that experience to back it up and as you keep playing it keeps building and he’s doing a good job of using that experience the next time through.”
It seems like anyone you talk to in the Jets locker room is more than thrilled to talk about how happy they are to have the confidence they do in Slauson and Slauson is just as happy to have their confidence.
Slauson said, “It’s huge, because I am playing on the best o-line in the NFL and I have to go out every week and pretty much prove myself, not only to them but to the whole league and all the press and everything, because I know every week everyone’s looking at me like okay is this going to be a problem and I’m terrified of that. I never want to be a problem, so to know that the confidence other people have for me has grown, that really helps a lot.”
“Slauson is really playing well, I mean you know, I’m going to be careful not to give him too many superlatives because after his game ball from Denver, he’s really high on himself right now (laughing).” Woody said, “but you know that’s good, that’s really good, but I’m telling you he keeps getting better and better every week.”
With all his hard work, the help of his extremely talented teammates and his ever-growing confidence Slauson has been steadily improving and there’s no reason to think that train will derail and he won’t be receiving more game balls in the future and maybe even a little more time in the limelight.
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