Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Lewis and Clark, Rolls Royce, Bob Hope and Bing Cosby. These are a few of some very famous partnerships. There are so many of these in history, politics, products and entertainment. Partnerships can be such a part of our world that it is hard to think of them as separate. Can you imagine Proctor without Gamble or Smith without Wesson? These partnerships all have something in common: They are successful, and profitable.
Even though these partnerships are not nearly as famous, as I studied about the center position, I am more and more convinced that the center and the quarterback are perfect partners. Besides the quarterback, there is no other player that needs to have as much knowledge of the offensive playbook as the center. There has to be perfect timing between the quarterback and the center (we will get into why later). And he needs to know the defense they are up against so well that he is able identify what they are going to do by the way the enemy lines up. This is necessary in order to successfully block for the quarterback and offense.
As the name implies, centers are positioned in the middle of the offensive line. The line consists of a center, two guards and two tackles. The “line” I am talking about are the big (and I mean BIG) guys that make up the dense part of the line of scrimmage, right in front of the quarterback. The center observes how the defense lines up then gets the information to the rest of the line so they can adjust their blocking if needed. While he is making these observations and adjustments, he is getting ready to snap the ball: The center is the first player to touch the ball on each play. He stands over the ball with one hand on it, listens to the snap count of the quarterback and then shuttles or tosses the ball back to him at the precise time. Immediately his job description changes from ball hiker to blocker, because once the ball begins to move there will be enormous angry defenders blasting over the line, zeroing in on the quarterback in order to sack him behind the line of scrimmage (if unable to get a sack they want to make him nervous enough to start interrupting his rhythm). So, the center’s main priority instantaneously becomes protector of the quarterback. Oh yeah, all this is done in less than 24 seconds.
The typical center in the NFL averages about 6’4” and 303lbs. Believe it or not, they are usually lighter than the other linemen. As big as these players are they are typically not well known public. Since all attention is on the ball and where it ends up, the players that handle the ball are usually better known than those on the line. But lack of popularity in no way means lack of importance. Even though we (meaning typical fans) notice when players with names like Aaron Rogers, Adrian Peterson or Andrew Luck are injured, injuries to the likes of Mike Pouncey, John Sullivan or Max Unger are even more distressing for teams. If these centers get injured it directly effects the play of the quarterback and the running backs. There is great concern within the team and those fans that follow football closely when the center or any of the men on the offensive line get injured.
So go celebrate the unsung partnerships this weekend. When you’re cheering for Russell Wilson, make sure to thank Max Unger. Or if you’re cheering for Ryan Tannehill, give a little plug for Mike Pouncey. It will impress those watching the game with you as well.