A Lead Blocker: What A Rush!
A lead blocker: what a rush!
BY JIM THOMAS
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Just the mere mention of Mike Karney's name makes running back Steven Jackson smile. Ever since the surprise release of Madison Hedgecock one game into the 2007 season, the Rams have lacked a true fullback in their offense.
But in March, the Rams signed Karney to plow the road for Jackson as a lead blocker. It's a role Karney embraces. No, make that relishes. But Karney hasn't been smiling much during training camp.
He suffered a sprained ankle four days into camp, on Aug. 3, and was sidelined for two weeks.
"I got rolled up on during one of the live periods," Karney said last week. "Lead blocking, and the pile caught me from the backside. That's typically how it happens. It's an ankle that's been rolled up on before. So I'm familiar with what happened."
Familiar, yes. Happy about it, no.
"I'd rather be out there sweating it out with my teammates than being on the side riding a bike, I tell you that much," Karney said.
But the wait is over for Karney, a 5-11, 260-pounder from Arizona State. He has been full-go in practice all week and will make his Rams preseason debut Friday against Atlanta. Karney isn't the only one excited about that.
"Oh, yeah, I can't wait," Jackson said. "It's going to be the first time we're going to be in there together, and we can get a feel for one another."
"I'm excited that he's excited," Karney says. "That's one thing that he and I need to get, is into that in-season rhythm and flow."
That's because there's more to being a pounder than, well, just pounding.
"Timing is very important," Karney said.
It's important, Karney said, that he and Jackson see the same thing from down-to-down as running plays develop.
"When he and I get on the same page, which I know we will, we'll be very effective," Karney said.
With Hedgecock lead-blocking in 2006, Jackson enjoyed his only Pro Bowl season, rushing for a career-high 1,528 yards and leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage (2,334).
Injuries have cut into Jackson's production the past two seasons, but so has the absence of a bona fide fullback. After signing with St. Louis in the spring, Karney was so eager to get to know Jackson that he took him out to lunch. He even picked up the tab. (Jackson has since returned the favor by taking Karney out to lunch.)
"When you're running the ball — and that's the first and foremost thing we're trying to establish here with our offense — you can't have the fullback going one way and the running back going the other way," Karney said. "Unless the play's designed that way.
"When I'm leading to the hole, I want (Jackson) to know what I'm seeing. And I want to know what he's seeing. Because if a defense is playing a certain front, a guy's playing a certain way, or a certain technique, and I tell him: 'Look out for this; watch for this.' And he sees that, then he'll be able to hit the hole or make the cut he needs to make."
A fifth-round draft choice by New Orleans in 2004, Karney missed only one game during his first four seasons in the league. (He sat out four games last season due to ankle and knee injuries.) As recently as 2006, he was a second-team All-Pro selection. And in '06 and '07 he was a Pro Bowl alternate.
But as coach Sean Payton's tenure continued in New Orleans, the Saints went more and more to a spread offense. A blocking specialist such as Karney — who has only 92 touches in 75 NFL regular-season games — no longer fit. For Karney, it was tough seeing his role phased out.
"No question," Karney said. "That was definitely the thing going on last year."
On March 5, the night of his wedding rehearsal, Karney went from phased out to out of a job. He was signed to a three-year deal by St. Louis less than a week after his release.
"I'm hoping he brings what we call a little bit of juice to the offense," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "He's an energetic, enthusiastic player. We're hoping he can get some shots in there, make some blocks, and help us out."
It takes a certain mentality to be a lead blocker. "Probably a little nuts," Spagnuolo said, laughing.
But if Karney, 28, wasn't born to play fullback, he was certainly drawn to his craft at an early age.
"When I was 7 years old, I learned playing the offensive line at left guard," Karney said. "I was never fast enough to play running back."
So he has been in this role for a couple of decades. He knows the drill. He knows the job description.
"Ground and pound," Karney said.
Re: A Lead Blocker: What A Rush!
I thought this was gonna be about James Laurinaitis taking some offensive reps at fullback. Some wrestling fans might get that post.
Re: A Lead Blocker: What A Rush!
I've been of the opinion ever since we stupidly let Hedgecock walk that we need a new blocking fullback before Steven Jackson can really flourish again. It is a sometimes overlooked part of the offense, everybody knows we need the line to open up holes for Jackson - but it sure helps to have a lead blocker taking out that first linebacker coming in too. Will Karney finally solve that need for us? I'm not sure, I want to believe it, and I know that he used to be a really good blocker. I'm just kind of unsure about him now because the Saints released him, I also haven't watched him play much for some time so I'm not sure what level he can currently play at. Anybody been following his career more closely, does he have anything left in the tank? All I know is we need *someone* to step into that role as soon as possible and excel at it - if that's Karney then we got a steal by signing him as a free agent.
Re: A Lead Blocker: What A Rush!
Well I live in Alabama thus I am forced to see New Orleans play every single Sunday. Which could explain my hatred for that team, but I'm unsure. Karney was always really popular in New Orleans and was a great lead blocker for Deuce all those years. The man is like a miniature train that just isnt going to stop. The only reason the Saints let him go is because they dont really feature a blocking fullback in their offense. They like to aire it out and go with a lot of singleback formations to spread the defense out and allow Bush to use his speed in the open field (which he doesnt). He will be the lead blocker that the Rams have been lacking, which is something you have to have for a power running game to succeed.
Originally Posted by RamOfDenmark
Any running back will tell you, those holes are a lot wider when you have a lead blocker.