They are never really talked about by fans on talk radio. In fact, they are rarely even interviewed themselves. Instead, they do their heavy lifting in the background and out of the limelight, even though they often are a critical component of a team's success or failure on game day.
"They" are the position coaches of the National Football League. They can make a huge difference in the performance of their unit and thus the team as a whole. Trust me, I've been there and seen it daily.
I've seen running backs coaches who helped get our quarterback killed because they weren't able to properly convey the blitz-pickup assignments to our backs. I've played against defensive line coaches such as the Philadelphia Eagles' Jim Washburn and the Indianapolis Colts' John Teerlinck, who each have a unique ability to pick the right guys to stay on the roster or somehow push all the players they are handed to play incredibly hard every snap.
I had nine offensive line coaches during my playing career. It was very obvious that some were better than others. In fact, it often jumped off the tape when I watched film of other lines as well. The well-coached units worked very well in concert, whether it was on a double team for a linebacker in the run game or picking up a three-man stunt in pass protection. The poorly coached teams struggled in those areas and more.
Nowhere is the importance of position coaches more evident than in Super Bowl XLV. The Green Bay Packers' linebackers coaches -- Winston Moss and Kevin Greene -- have continually gotten outstanding production from their group. The unit has excelled despite being decimated by injury. Nick Barnett, Brady Poppinga, Brandon Chillar and even Brad Jones have all been placed on the injured reserve list during the season. Yet despite losing what amounts to an entire linebacking corps, the Packers have found a way to help turn Desmond Bishop into an emerging star while getting solid production from previous unknowns Frank Zombo, Erik Walden and Robert Francois.
Yet despite the masterful job that Moss and Greene have done in Green Bay, they may have been outdone by Pittsburgh Steelers first-year offensive line coach Sean Kugler. He came to Pittsburgh this past offseason from the Buffalo Bills without a lot of fanfare or experience at the NFL level. All he's had to deal with since then is the loss of his two starting offensive tackles from a unit that was considered the team's weak link even before those injuries.
Instead, Kugler has found a way to make a unit consisting of a journeyman left tackle, an over-the-hill right tackle, an undrafted free-agent right guard and -- with the injury to star center Maurkice Pouncey in the AFC Championship Game -- an undrafted free agent who has started four career games (all at guard) as Pouncey's replacement. And all that not-so-fearsome foursome did -- with the help of left guard Chris Kemoeatu -- was help the Steelers rush for more than 160 yards against the New York Jets to clinch the AFC title. That's not too shabby.
It is all the more impressive when you consider that on that cobbled-together unit, only Kemoeatu would be ranked among the top 20 offensive linemen in the league at their respective positions. No matter. As a unit, under Kugler's leadership, the Steelers' offensive line is good enough to march to the Super Bowl.
Now the Steelers have to get it done once more against Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji and the gang -- without Pouncey. It will take their very best effort, and that includes my position coach of the year, Kugler.
From the inbox
Q: ESPN has reported that the Eagles are asking for two first-round draft picks for Kevin Kolb. I really think the Eagles should have stuck with their original plan with Kolb as starter, but I guess they made the right decision. Does setting the price for Kolb so high reflect their unwillingness to trade him, his true value or a bargaining position that they expect to be negotiated down? I think Kolb could thrive as a starter in a city where they don't boo you for getting a concussion. Is any team in a position to give up so much for one player?
Jacob from Maitland, Australia
A: It's probably just a starting point for any team that wants to discuss Kolb's availability via trade, but you have to imagine that the Eagles want to get something very significant in return. For one, any number of suitors should be interested, such as San Francisco, Arizona and Minnesota, just to name a few. Secondly, with Michael Vick's propensity to take hits, the Eagles will want to make sure they have a viable option available should he be injured. Unlike many others, however, I think the Eagles ultimately will trade Kolb. He is under contract for only next year, and they like last year's fourth-round pick, Mike Kafka out of Northwestern, quite a bit. It makes business sense to get something in return for Kolb now before he goes elsewhere in free agency next year.
Q: We know that the NFL can be cutthroat. That a veteran on the bubble, for example, won't go out of his way to help a rookie trying to make the team. What about "heir apparent" coaches (e.g., Dallas, Minnesota, Oakland)? Do you think they might not go out of their way to help their current bosses win?
Jim from Dickinson, N.D.
A: This is the latest conspiracy theory out there, and I've heard it mainly in reference to Jason Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys. I find this comical and the logic seriously flawed. For one, it assumes that Garrett would purposely hold back the Cowboys' offense so that Dallas would lose, Wade Phillips would get fired and Garrett would be named the interim head coach. Then after that, the theory holds, he would get the offense going again so that the team would win games and he would get the full-time position. The biggest problem I have with that theory is that no coach would ever want his unit to purposely play badly, as that is a poor reflection on him. What if Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had decided to keep Wade all season and then let him go? Then Garrett would have been an out-of-work assistant coming off a season in which his offense was inept. That would not be good, but thankfully, none of it is true, so it doesn't matter.
Q: Why do teams call timeouts early in the third quarter when the play clock is running down? A timeout can determine who wins or loses the game at the end; a second-and-5 at your own 35-yard line is not worth calling a timeout for instead of simply talking the penalty. And it often seems like quarterbacks are authorized to call these timeouts on their own when it would seem head coaches should want this power to themselves.
Perry from Louisville, Ky.
A: I see your point, but you are assuming that those timeouts will be meaningful at the end of the game, and that is not necessarily the case. Sure, if a team is trailing late in the game and in desperate need of stopping the clock, it will wish that timeout was available. But that is hindsight. Teams or quarterbacks have to make the decision as to whether they use the timeout in a given situation based on the information that is available to them at that point.
Q: Why is the challenge rule set up so that you need to be right twice in order to get an additional challenge? Wouldn't it make more sense to only run out of challenges if you swing and miss twice? I don't think teams should get punished if they correct a blown call by the officials. Any chance that they amend this rule in the future?
Daniel from New York
A: I agree 100 percent. It doesn't seem logical that a team could conceivably challenge three blown calls (two plus the extra challenge that is awarded if the first two are successful) and get all three overturned, and yet if there is another mistaken call, they don't have any recourse whatsoever. I suppose it is a matter of personal preference, but I don't particularly care for the challenge system. I much prefer the college system with one guy in a booth reviewing every play and deciding whether it should be looked at in further
Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams in his seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com.