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Sitting down with Uche Nwaneri


Any time you sit down with Jaguars guard/center Uche Nwaneri for a brief time you will come away a little smarter and more knowledgeable about football. Nwaneri is a student of the game. He loves discussing the X's and O's, what makes an offensive line successful and the challenge of playing each Sunday.

The fourth-year pro sat down with for a lengthy interview earlier this week in which he discussed the 2010 offensive line, the potential of rookie Tyson Alualu and his personal goals for the season.

You are entering your fourth year in the NFL, your third year as a starter. Do you feel like a veteran now?
Yes. I feel like there is more weight to the things I say, more respect for what I do personally on the field. Everybody has mutual respect for what everybody does on the field. Being an older guy on a team that is much younger than it even was last year, I feel like there are a lot of guys that look up to a handful of guys on the team. I certainly want to be one of those guys and I feel in the offensive line room I am one of those guys. Of course we have (Brad) Meester and Vinny (Manuwai) but it's always good to have a core group of guys that have seen a lot of different things. This is going to be my third year starting so I have been out on the field and I have seen a lot. I know what it takes to win one game in this league and helping to uplift the team is something I always wanted to be a part of.

How different is it for the offensive line now compared to last year? You had Tony Pashos in the starting lineup really all the way through training camp before he was released along with Maurice Williams.
Last year started off a little bit of a mystery. I was at left guard and when Vinny (Manuwai) came back to doing all the drills they moved me to right. I started at right the first three preseason games and then all of sudden Pashos is at right guard. Then he was released and it goes from Mo (Williams) at right guard, and he didn't play right guard most of training camp. Personally, I was perplexed and confused but at the same time I knew I had to play my role and let things play out. They put me back on the field the second and third games and I just ran with it.

It was obvious there were a lot of decisions made to get the club's two top draft picks, Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, out on the field. They both started and played well. Is it hard to explain how much experience those two guys received from playing as rookies?
That is not something you can write down and say this is how it was. That's a feeling and I know how they feel because my second year I was thrown out there on the second play of the game against the Titans. I had to play the right side which I had never played since I had been in Jacksonville. I know exactly what they were going through. It's tough. It's hard to be the face of a draft class for the Jaguars as a tackle, a left tackle at that, and go out and perform knowing there is a lot of pressure on you to be successful simply because you are the eighth overall pick. It's not fair, especially at the offensive line position because it takes so much more to play consistently as a left tackle. Eugene was under a lot of pressure and in a division where you are playing against some of the most elite pass rushers in the game. It's unfair to look at that, whether it's as a fan or coach, and feel like he should be successful against Dwight Freeney in his first game as an NFL player. Or he needs to be successful against Mario Williams. People saying, 'can he be successful against this guy or that guy?' That's not fair. He's a rookie; he's roughly eight months removed from playing college football. It's the same thing for Eben on the other side. He's still playing against top-tier defensive ends. You have (Robert) Mathis and (Kyle) Vanden Bosch, all these different guys who are well-known, proven players that you have to go against as a rookie. The one thing I can say from personal experience is that you may know the offense but you don't know how to play against defenses as well as you will in the future. You don't recognize blitzes setting up as well as you do your second or third year. Everything has to be cohesive, you have to be able to communicate, there has to be a level of communication that everybody understands at all times.

Is communication one of the toughest things to learn?
One of the things I think those two young guys have improved on is talking once they get to the line of scrimmage. Say something. If you see something, say it. We will adjust. I will pass it to (Brad) Meester and he will make the appropriate adjustment to a call if need be. As a first-year player, that is hard to do because that is not what's on your mind. You're trying to concentrate on how you are going to do this play against an eight-time Pro Bowler.

What was your 'Welcome to the NFL' moment?
It was my second year when I got tossed in the game on the second play against Tennessee. That was a shock but at the same time I was prepared to play. It was that adrenaline flow. You're not sure what they are going to do on defense. You don't have a great knowledge of how to assess defenses at the line of scrimmage. You are new to being on the field on gameday. I knew it was one of the moments. I hurt my knee and I had to come back in the game. Vinny gets hurt and then they have me go play against Albert Haynesworth. That's when I was like, 'Welcome to the NFL.' You're in a position where you're clearly at a disadvantage. Not only do you have to gut it out and play the rest of the game, you have to play the rest of the game against the best defensive tackle in football on a hurt knee.

The Jaguars played several teams last year that had a revolving door along their offensive line. It's nearly impossible to have offensive continuity when you don't have stability up front.
It's tough because the communication is lost when you mix and match players. The communication becomes second priority because you are trying to focus on your responsibility on each play. When you have a new piece getting plugged in you have to communicate to him what he needs to do and he has to communicate to you any concerns he might have. You have to do all of this in four or five seconds.

Is it frustrating when you hear all the experts talk after a game or about a play where they think they know who is responsible for a sack? In a roundabout way, aren't most sacks on multiple people along the line?
I don't think people fully understand the intricacies of playing offensive line. It's not necessarily about lining up and blocking the guy in front of you. It's about understanding the concept of the player, understanding where the protection needs to be and what adjustments maybe you have to make on the run during the course of the cadence and the play.

I have been around people who understand at the very basic concept what offensive lines do. They slide this way, they slide that way, they block this way, they block that way. But there is so much more to it. Everybody that is on the Jaguars web site knows I'm on the message board sometimes trying to explain it. I'm not sitting there putting our playbook out there for everybody to read. When you see a guy running through the A gap that might not even be a linemen's guy. That might be the running back's responsibility or it could be our guy. There is so much more that goes into blocking. It could be a hot read where we know he's going to come free and Dave has to read it.

Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has said multiple times this offseason that David Garrard has to play better but everybody around him also has to play better.
Everybody has to play better. I try to tell people that if you love football and really pay attention to the game then you know, for instance, we gave up 44 sacks last year. The 44 sacks weren't given up because the offensive line didn't block. Okay, an X-amount of sacks were given up because the offensive line might have missed an assignment, X-amount of sacks because a receiver is not open or doesn't get open. The protection isn't built for offensive linemen to block for more than four or five players. When they bring six then the quarterback has to get the ball out. If his receivers aren't open he has to hold the ball. He can't just throw it. There are different factors that go into sacks. You can't put sacks on one particular group. It's because as a group everyone wasn't on the same page. Those things contribute to sacks being given up. We had some sacks where Dave scrambled, looked down field and didn't find anybody so he ran out of bounds a yard behind the line of scrimmage. That's a sack.

That is not how it's always portrayed on the outside
They see somebody run by someone else and they think it's that guy's fault. They see somebody run up the middle and they say it was the interior. It's so many different things.

The depth of the offensive line this year is very solid. General Manager Gene Smith brought in some veterans in the last year with Kynan Forney and Justin Smiley that add a lot of experience to the group.
I feel like we have a good mix of both. We have young guys that have experience now and we have veterans that have been there who add a lot. Eugene (Monroe) and Eben (Britton) have a year under their belt. They are going to be a lot better because they have seen a lot of things. Once you see certain things over and over it becomes easier to recognize it before it comes. There will be big jump in their play. (Brad) Meester has always been a reliable veteran and he knows what needs to get done. Vinny should be at full strength this year coming off that knee injury. Guys like Kynan and Justin have been there and they know what it takes to win. We have a lot of guys who know what they need to do every Sunday to get a victory.

It's obvious Gene Smith did a major upgrade along the defensive line with this year's draft. Is it better to wait on evaluating these young guys until the pads get on?
I would say generally OTAs move faster, clearly because you don't have pads on. I can't block a guy on a run play the way I would with pads on. You can look at a guy's demeanor and attitude throughout the course of OTAs to see if this guy slows down when he gets tired. Does he use his hands well? Does he have good footwork? Those are things you can see before you put pads on. For instance, I look at Tyson (Alualu) and I've never seen a defensive tackle in the regular season or training camp that uses their hands like he does. He uses his hands like a defensive end. He has the most active hands I have seen in a while. I'm not trying to blow smoke. The guy's hands are crazy and he has an edge because of that alone. Usually a rookie defensive lineman comes in and it's so easy to get your hands on them because they don't know how to use them. A lot of them run at you and they don't try to avoid you. They just run to you and you just get a hold of them. He has really good hands and I think that is going to be big for him. He's going to get bigger and stronger.

What are some of your individual goals?
Individually I think I can make the Pro Bowl. I feel like I had a really good season last year. A lot of people told me I did, like Tra Thomas. He was joking with me that if I played in Philadelphia I would have been in the Pro Bowl because I played that well. I recognize those things but at the same time I know I have things I need to get better at this year. I feel like I can be that type of player now, this year. That is one of my personal goals. Aside from our team goals, my number one personal goal for 2010 is to make the Pro Bowl. I am going to do everything within my power.

Looking at your career long-term, do you want to eventually play center?
I do want to play center. I think playing center entails a couple of different things. It's not as physically grinding as playing guard. You have the guard positions, which are more mauler positions. The tackles are more athletic, finesse positions. The center is the quarterback, anchor and leader of the line. That is a couple of things I want to do. I want to be the guy that is considered the leader among this group. I want to be able to be relied on to make calls and organize how the offensive line moves. I have seen that as a challenge that I want to learn enough and get enough information from Brad (Meester) and Andy (Heck) so when the time comes I am able to make a seamless transition.

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