We were recently honored to speak with 16-year NFL center Kevin Mawae(notes), who has also represented his pro football brethren as the President of the NFLPA. Playing for the Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets, and Tennessee Titans in his estimable career, Mawae made eight Pro Bowls and was a three-time First-Team All-Pro. He wanted to talk specifically about the New York Life Protection Index, a new way of rating offensive linemen and lines that is definitely worth checking out (you can do so here), and we mixed that in with his football past and history as a representative for his fellow players in the ongoing labor wars.
Shutdown Corner: You had a consecutive games streak of 177 yourself, so with all the talk about how Brett Favre's(notes) streak just ended, and the talk about other streaks like Jim Marshall's, which do you thin was most impressive? And what kind of mentality does it take to put a streak like that together?
Kevin Mawae: Well I think what it takes, week after week, is just the commitment and dedication to be on the field. That encompasses the off-season conditioning program, how you handle yourself and how you take care of yourself during the week of the season, from week-to-week, and knowing when to play hurt versus what's an injury. I think once you figure out the difference between those two things, then it's just a matter of going out there and doing it. It's hard to play injured, but everybody plays hurt in the NFL. There's guys that can do it, and there's guys that can't. I think of all the streaks-I'm not sure of what Marshall's streak was, I know it was some ridiculous number, as well-As a defensive end, for the most part is taking a pounding every play, that's an impressive streak.
I played with Curtis Martin, and I can't ever remember him missing a game. As a quarterback, you don't get hit all the time, and you don't get hit every play, but you do take more vicious hits. I'm partial to the offensive linemen who are in the mix, in-and-out every play, and never get a break. So to go 177, for me, was a good streak, but then you look at a guy like Bruce Matthews that was 296, and you think ‘Wow, he played in 296 games'. Anytime you can string together that many games, regardless of what position you're playing, it's a pretty big feat to accomplish."
SC: The position of center is kind of a one-off - you have as many undrafted All-Pros at the position as first-rounders, and it may the onloy position besides quarterback where game intelligence is the primary player attribute. What does it take to play the position at a high level?
KM: I think more than anything, it's the ability to adjust and adapt. I think the intelligence of a center, not saying that no other position has that kind of smarts, but the center's got to able to make split-second decisions regarding pass protections, run situations, and things like that. That really good knack for the flow of the game and understanding their opponents. You know a guy like Jeff Saturday(notes) was an undrafted guy who worked his way up the hard way. There are numerous other guys that come up that have set themselves apart because of their football smarts and knowledge. If I'm a coach, I want a guy that's a good player, but that's a smart player. Most of the guys that play on the offensive line are like that, in particular the center, who I've always called the air-traffic controllers, if you will. It just takes the ability to understanding your scheme, what other defenses are doing, and the wherewithal, the smarts, and the talent just to make all the split-second decisions to run the ball and protect the quarterback."
SC: Which player or coach taught you the most in your career?
KM: I played for some of the best. I played for Howard Mudd when I was in Seattle, one of the all-time best offensive line coaches. I played for Bill Muir and Doug Marrone in New York, and Mike Munchak in Tennessee, who was a Hall of Fame player himself. I've taken a little bit of my game from each one of those coaches and built on my foundation as a player, and then worked on the other things that I needed to get better at and then honed the skills I was really good at. It's hard to say, when you've played 16 years in the NFL, which one coach taught you the most, because I think it's a collection of all of them that made me be the player that I was. I really didn't try to emulate my game after any one or two particular players. I always played my game using the tools that I had, and I think that's how the best players do it."
SC: Was there one or two different lines you played on that you look back on with particular satisfaction?
KM: Yeah, there's only two lines that I can think of when I think that. I think one would be the one I played with here in Tennessee last year when we went up for over 2,000 yards with Chris Johnson. We had two great tackles in Michael Roos(notes) and David Stewart(notes), and then there was myself and Eugene Amano(notes) and Jake Scott(notes) at guards. To accomplish 2,000 yards for a running back is an incredible feat. I think what makes it even more incredible was the fact that we were ranked like #2 in the least amount of sacks given up the entire season.
When an offensive line can protect their quarterback, and they open the running game up, that brings success. And we did, so that was a great year. In New York, we had a really good offensive line. I think 2004, Kareem McKenzie(notes), Jason Fabini(notes) at the tackle spots. David Szott and Pete Kendall(notes) at the guards, and myself at center. We accomplished some great deals there. Curtis Martin won the rushing title that year, and again, I think were ranked #2 or maybe ranked #1 in least amount of sacks that year, as well. An individual player's success is only as great as those guys around them, and for the offensive line, a collective unit, that's the only way you measure success is on rushing yards and how you protect the quarterback."
KM: It's unfortunate. You have a player who hasn't shown the maturity that everybody thought he would in his fifth year in the league. An owner that's calling shots above the head coach, and a head coach that's not winning any games. So it's tough to watch, especially coming off the season we had last year and the year before. It's just an unfortunate situation, and something's got to give. Either the coach has got to go or the quarterback's got to go, and I'm not quite sure which one is going to be the one to go."
SC: Is Fisher given the respect he's earned by most players?
KM: I think so. I had a lot of respect for him while I was playing for him. The guy is the most tenured coach in the NFL, and he knows how to win ball games and he treats players like professionals. It's just unfortunate, at times, that you have players that don't know how to be professional. I don't think there's ever a player that's played for him that had ever come back and said ‘I never liked playing for him' or ‘I have no respect for him' or anything like that. I just don't think that would be the case."
SC: Given your knowledge of the NFL's possible lockout situation, and your longtime history as a player rep and NFLPA President, what odds would you lay that we'll see a full season in 2011?
KM: I don't give odds on that. I just tell everybody what I tell my players: We've got to prepare for the worst-case scenario, and prepare for a lockout. Now in the meantime, we'll say that publicly and internally, but we're going to work as hard as we can to get a deal done. Our goal was to get something done before Christmas, obviously that's not going to happen. So the next goal would be to get it done before the CBA is out, before March 3 of 2011. There's a lot of things that got to go into place, there's got to be some give on both sides of the table. In spite of all the public rhetoric from both sides, we're just as guilty as the NFL is, we're both going to continue to come to the table and work diligently to get a deal done. We still got to protect our players, and we got to protect them, make sure that they're ready in the event that a lockout does take place."
SC: Let's talk about the New York Life Protection Index, which is a new way of rating performances by offensive linemen.
KM: It's an opportunity, or a way, to track offensive lines and teams and how well that they're doing upfront. The New York Life Protection Index shows basically the offensive line taken the number of times the pass is thrown, caught, the yards, sacks, and hits on quarterbacks and combines all those stats together to come up with an index on a scale of 1-100 and pretty accurately can tell you how successful the team is going to be. It's an opportunity for those who want to track offensive linemen to see how they're doing-not just individually, but as units. The interesting stat shows that the teams that rank in the higher portion of the stats, I think was it last year or early this year or right now, the top three teams, according to the New York Life Protection Index, are actually three of the front-runners for the playoffs with New Orleans, New York, and Indianapolis. So it's a neat way for people to track, not just their teams, but their offensive line and the successes they're having through the New York Life Protection Index."
SC: So, that recognition could backfire if you're not doing your job!
KM: (laughs) Well, it could work against you. If you're one of the bottom-tier teams and you're quarterback is taking a lot of hits and you're giving up a lot of sacks, then you'll rank down at the bottom with San Francisco, Oakland, and Chicago. But for the most part, it's a neat way to see the overall success of an offensive line unit....I think I've seen our stats from last year, and years past. As good as this program is, the New York Life Protection Index is, it could really hit you upside the head if you're not that great of a player, or not that good of an offensive line. If you as a player are following the stats, you need to make sure you're doing all you can to keep your quarterback upright and clean."