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Thread: Doing The Dirty Work
Doing The Dirty Work
Doing the Dirty Work
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
By Nick Wagoner
If, as the cliché says, football is the ultimate team sport then individual glory shouldn’t be a part of its fabric.
But in a league where Most Valuable Player awards always go to the star quarterback or running back, there’s no denying that those accomplishments wouldn’t be possible without the contributions of a variety of garbage men, the guys who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and dig down to do the job nobody else wants to do.
These are the guys who get their glory vicariously through others. These are the guys like tight end Billy Bajema and fullback Mike Karney. They don’t play high profile positions like quarterback or wide receiver. They don’t even have the cache of a lockdown left tackle protecting the quarterback’s blind side.
No, guys like Bajema and Karney do their jobs silently and anonymously and wait for the rewards when they throw a block that leads to a touchdown or protect the quarterback so he can let go of a long pass.
“I have said this since the day I started playing the position, it is awesome hearing the crowd roar when you make a block and you see the back run or you pick up a blitz and you see the quarterback throw a deep pass for a big gain,” Karney said. “That’s the joy I get playing the position. I could care less if I was scoring or catching the ball. It’s nice but that’s not what the position is all about. It’s about doing the dirty work, getting the mentality of that and understanding that, which I did at a young age. I have a lot of fun doing it.”
More often than not, the glory a great block leads to doesn’t even get recognized until the following day.
“It’s not always noticed but when you get in the film room the next day and you make a good block that ends up in a big run I think your teammates appreciate it,” Bajema said. “That’s enough to know you are doing enough things to help the team win.”
BORN TO BLOCK
Karney might have the most thankless position in football with the possible exception of a nose tackle. On nearly every play, it’s Karney’s responsibility to locate a potential collision, usually with a hard-charging linebacker.
On running plays, Karney will be the first man in the trenches and it’s his job to take on the on rushing linebackers. Assuming he does his job properly, Karney will make enough contact to open some room for the running back to make his move and get to the next level with the ball.
It’s a job that goes without much in the way of acclaim but it’s one Karney says has been a part of him since he was a youngster.
When Karney was 7, he was already big enough to play football. The thing was, the league was for 8 and 9 year old kids. Karney was one of the only 7-year olds in the league.
After spending a season at left guard, he moved to fullback. It was almost as though he never knew the potential glory that would wait if he could sling a touchdown pass or haul in a long bomb.
“I was the only 7-year old on the team so I learned the hard way,” Karney said. “I learned what the non glory positions are all about at a young age and I was able to move up and play fullback.”
Karney made the position his own. He grew into one of the best fullback in the nation at Arizona State and New Orleans drafted him in the fifth round of the 2004 NFL Draft.
For the next five seasons, Karney cleared paths for running backs like Deuce McAlister and Reggie Bush. But in 2008, the Saints began to veer from their power running ideals and became a spread offense centered on quarterback Drew Brees.
New Orleans released Karney and he promptly signed with the Rams. In this training camp, Karney has missed time with an ankle injury but he’s gone to great lengths to get to know Steven Jackson, his running back.
In the offseason, the pair regularly went to lunch and Karney says developing that chemistry is going to be a major factor in the Rams offense finding success in 2009.
“When you are running the ball and that’s the first and foremost thing we are trying to establish here with our offense, it’s important that you have two backs going the same way,” Karney said. “You can’t have the fullback going one way and the running back going the other way unless the play is designed that way. When I am leading through the hole, I want him to know what I’m seeing and I want to know what he’s seeing. If the defense is playing a certain front or a guy is playing a certain technique and I tell him ‘hey, look out for this or this,’ he should potentially be able to hit the hole and make the cut he needs to make so that is the biggest thing about it. If he and I can get rolling together, that just makes us better as an offense.”
In Bajema’s case, his expertise in the world of dirty work comes more or less by happenstance.
When you play fullback, it’s understood that blocking will be the top priority but when you are a tight end, the potential is there for catching passes, scoring touchdowns and becoming a glory guy.
Bajema didn’t embrace the blocking side of his position as quick as Karney but when he did he took quickly to the grimier side of the game.
“I think it’s just that blocking has been something I took pride in since I came into the league,” Bajema said. “Even in college, I came in and I go all out when it’s time to block somebody. Over a couple years, I sort of developed that role so I definitely take pride in it. I want to be the best blocker I can and the best tight end I can be.”
At Oklahoma State, Bajema caught 52 passes for 709 yards and four touchdowns all the while maintaining dual majors in business and pre-med. And while Bajema was active in the passing game, it was his blocking skills that got him drafted by San Francisco in the seventh round.
Bajema spent the past four seasons with the ***** and honed his blocking skills. While catching just seven balls for 88 yards without a touchdown, Bajema helped block for running back Frank Gore on his way to becoming the first player in franchise history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in three straight seasons.
Even those blocking efforts went largely unnoticed.
“Every now and then they would throw the tight ends into the O line awards,” Bajema said. “But you’re right, a lot of times Frank Gore would have a big game they would hand out game balls to the offensive line and the tight ends would get left out but that’s just part of it.”
As part of the Rams’ commitment to making the running game the focal point of the offense, the team moved quickly to sign Bajema to be the designated “blocking” tight end, a role filled last season by Anthony Becht.
In this training camp, Bajema has so far proved to be everything the Rams had hoped in terms of blocking but he’s opened some eyes with his ability to get down the seam and make plays in the passing game.
“Billy is just one of those guys that knows what he’s going to bring everyday,” fellow tight end Randy McMichael said. “And the one thing about him everybody wants to say Billy is a blocking tight end, but Billy can get down the field and catch the ball really well. And he’s going to be a great addition to the tight end role.”
GETTING THEIR DUE
There are plenty of ways to reward the guys doing the dirty work for what they accomplish in a season. New England quarterback Tom Brady bought cars for his offensive line after a record-breaking 2008 season.
For guys like Karney and Bajema, the rewards aren’t as necessary as getting a victory. Still, both are more than willing to accept whatever comes their way for their work so long as their work is leading to wins.
One less tangible way is to reward them by actually getting them the ball, particularly near the end zone. Karney was once rewarded for his work with two touchdown passes thrown his way in a game against Dallas.
Like a bad golfer, it’s sometimes that one touch or one score that keeps you coming back for more of the grunt work.
“I definitely look forward to all those opportunities I can get as well and I will do my job and give everything I’ve got when it’s time to block,” Bajema said.
Such is life in the world of the blue collar player without whom none of the highlight reels would be possible.
Re: Doing The Dirty Work
Back on track....
Bajema and Karney are the kind of guys I love to read about. Yeah, maybe their blocking goes unnoticed by most but the coaches are the ones that matter and they won't miss anything.
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