Alex Boone: The Line’s Dark Knight—The Leader They Need

Alex Boone draws a crowd—and with good reason. He is articulate and has a sense of humor, and demonstrated both when speaking to the media at the organized team activities last week. Boone should be a benefit to the line (I didn’t say a "boon" —you’re welcome) if can walk the talk. And so far I like what I hear.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was looking for more attitude from his offensive line. It was his way of saying, without criticizing their skills and abilities, that he wanted them be a little meaner, a little nastier—which, if it is your job to block the ferocious defensive linemen of the NFL, is certainly called for. Boone isn’t braggadocious, but he isn’t shy to speak his mind either and that might be the right element that this line is needing.

“I do,” Boone said when asked if he likes the “best man wins” mentality of competition. “But there is a different mentality with an offensive line. This is a brotherhood. You’ve got to be with each other. I think one of the things that is so great about OTAs is that you get your chemistry going early. You get to work with guys and see how they do things. That is important for an offensive lineman.

“There is always competition. This is business at the end of the day. But for the most part, guys who go out here and say ‘it’s me versus everybody,’ you’re not going to really accomplish anything on the offensive line. Because then you get in the mindset that ‘it’s all about me’ when it should be, ‘it’s all about us.’”

Right tackle T.J. Clemmings was a rookie last season, so he needed to learn a lot of things before he started exhibiting a dominant attitude. Center Joe Berger and guard Mike Harris were backups filling in, while the soft-spoken Brandon Fusco was playing in a new position next to left tackle Matt Kalil, who had been coming off a season where he found himself a bit under fire. This makeshift group did reasonably well for being cobbled together due to injuries, but it wasn’t enough (certainly for fans and observers) and for the head coach and general manager, who brought in free agents Boone and Andre Smith to up the competition. Not to mention, a new offensive line coach in former head coach Tony Sparano.

“Yelling at an offensive line, that’s expected,” Boone said. “That’s going to happen. You really just want to see who is going to be a man about it and who is going to be a [baby] and cry about it.”

Boone smacks of a leader, and one with the confidence that comes with experience. And his experience has taught him that the key for the line is to work together as a unit rather than one player working for himself.

“I don’t want to say the offense, because to me football is always football,” said Boone when asked what is the biggest adjustment he will find coming to Minnesota after six seasons in San Francisco. “It never changes; it’s always the same thing. A gap is a gap. A zone scheme is a zone scheme. It’s not that; I think it’s just working with different guys. I am so used to playing with the Joe Staley’s and the Mike Iupati’s and all of a sudden you come here and it’s whole new guys. And it’s like, how do they do things? What are they like? And it’s just kind of learning from each other out on the field. Other than that, personalities are always the same. Football players never change.”

And becoming a cohesive unit starts with communication, which Boone isn’t reticent to do.

“What do I need to communicate to you, what do you need to communicate to me. It’s really a trial by fire,” he said. “When we fail, we learn something. What did I learn from this? Well, I need to start talking to you more, you need to start talking to me more. That’s what the OTAs are all about, how can we help each other, how can we get better as a team?”

Boone’s voice will be heard. It will be heard on the line at practice, in the meeting rooms and off the field in front of microphones and cameras. Sometimes that verbal bravado can be a tool for deflecting deficiencies under the bright lights of the playing field. But when a seasoned veteran says he is willing to listen to the new players coming into the league, you get the sense that he is always on the hunt for new ways to make himself and his team better.

“As an offensive lineman, [the job] never really changes,” Boone said. “I think one of the great things is when you have a great room and everybody gets a voice and you listen to what works well for other people. So many people say an older guy can never learn something for a younger guy--I don’t believe that. They are so outside the box sometimes that when you listen to them talk about something or explain something, it’s so interesting. You’d be like, ‘why would you think that’ ‘Because I don’t know any other way.’ 'Well, that’s great. Let me start thinking like that.’ You start learning things from everybody.”

Boone has a big smile and when he is showing it while dripping with sweat after an OTA practice in early June, you get the sense that he really likes the game of football. Offensive linemen participate in the most boring drills in the game, and to come away from it smiling is a good sign as to the kind of person and player Boone is. Of course, perhaps he’s smiling because he knows it isn’t August yet when the drills get longer, more repetitive, more difficult and certainly a bit hotter.

“It’s going to ramp up in Mankato,” he said with a smile about what will be coming from Sparano when training camp starts. “Be ready.”

Vikings fans should get ready, too, for new leadership and a new attitude on the offensive line—which may just what they need.

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Neil S. Schwartz

Email: neilsschwartz@gmail.com

Jonathan Feinsod

Email: jonathan@sffootball.net

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