July 7, 2017

Hogan: Getting to know the guards

Tyler Holmes (57) during the game at Mosaic stadium in Regina, SK. Thursday, June 30, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

They do the dirty work on the interior. They’re tough to see on the field unless you’re looking for them. They get little to no recognition from those not directly linked to the team.

They’re guards, and like the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, they get no respect, at least from the majority.

Among offensive linemen, left tackles get most of the love. Seriously, there was even a book written called “The Blind Side”. They’re regarded as the best, and most important player on the line because they have to play in space, need to have great feet, and most importantly, protect a right-handed quarterback from being crushed from the aforementioned blind side.

Right tackles are next up in terms of accolades received. Also required to play in space, those who play on that side of the line are generally looked upon as being more important to the unit’s success than those on the interior.

Centres? They’re generally regarded as being the most cerebral players of the group. Usually, they’re responsible for making the pre-snap calls in terms of blocking assignments. They also have to snap the ball to the QB, so they’re visible on every play.

So where does that leave the guards? Who are these relatively anonymous men and what exactly is their role?

Tyler Holmes and Corey Watman are the starting guards for the Toronto Argonauts. They’re hardly household names, yet are vitally important pieces to the offensive puzzle.

Holmes has the higher profile of the two. He was the Argos first-round draft pick in 2011, suiting up for the first time in 2013 after a stint in the NFL with the Vikings, where he first experienced the joy of playing inside.

“When I was down in Minnesota I started playing (guard) a little bit, then full time when I got up here,” said Holmes. “I was a left tackle in college and tackle/guard/centre in the NFL.”

Like Holmes, Watman was a first-round draft pick with Saskatchewan selecting him fourth overall in 2013. He played three seasons in green and white before heading home to the GTA a year ago as a free agent.

Unlike Holmes, he’s been a lifer at the position. When asked what the most fun aspect of playing guard is, he was succinct.

“You get to take shots on people.”

The product of Huron Heights Secondary School in Newmarket doesn’t seem to mind the anonymity.

“Fans don’t care unless you get a penalty for holding or jumping offside, it’s the only time they’ll hear your name,” said Watman. “If you don’t hear about us we’re doing our job.”

While the importance of the men in the middle may be lost on the general fan, it’s certainly appreciated by the head coach. Marc Trestman was asked by Argonauts.ca to list the most important things he looks for in a guard.

“They have to have quickness, they have to be intelligent,” said the coach. “They’ve got to be able to block nose guards, they’ve got to be able to block defensive ends depending on charges. They’re taking on different body types, and then they’ve got to handle backers as well, so there’s vision that’s involved.”

The coach was now getting giddy about guards.

“The tackle is out there in space,” continued Trestman, “He’s got to take care of the edge and everybody watches that because it’s the quarterback’s blind side, but inside there’s a little more to it in terms of involvement with the centre’s communication and the back side.”

There was an old football adage that if an offensive lineman had bad feet you’d just stick him at guard and let him brawl a little bit. That it was a good way to hide a player’s deficiencies. Trestman says that philosophy is now ancient history.

“Everybody is so athletic now, and so much stronger than back in the day,” he said. “There’s a nimbleness to the job, but there’s a sturdiness as well because you’ve got to be able to stop a charge and pick up a twist and have hand quickness to come off and block second-level people. It just goes on and on, it’s infinite really.”

Anyone reading this who played guard at any point in their life is either slow clapping right now or is getting a bit misty. Rarely has such love been given to the offensive line’s forgotten men.

There will be even more love this Saturday for Holmes, as he heads home to Ottawa to play in front of his own fan club, including his father Richard, an Argo running back for a brief stint back in 1977 before joining the Rough Riders.

“It always awesome to go back there and play in front of friends and family,” said the Merivale High School product. “I’ve done it a few times now so I’m kind of used to it and know what to expect. It’s always fun though, for sure.”

And definitely more fun with a win.