I love the opportunity I get to talk to players and I am grateful for all of them and have enjoyed all of them. Still, it was simply an honor to speak with one of the greatest ever to put on pads in Hall of Famer and Rams Legend Jackie Slater. Slater, now working as the offensive line coach at Azusa Pacific, discussed his path into coaching and why he has pursued it. He also talked about Luke Marquardt, an offensive tackle and an NFL Draft prospect he has coached the past two years as well as a handful of players he worked with the past few months preparing for the NFL Draft.
Peter Smith: Why did you take a break from football and then come back to coaching?
Jackie Slater: I took the break from football because I really wanted to get away from it. I had played for 20 years and I wanted to do something else. Rich Brooks at the Rams had offered me the opportunity to be the assistant line coach under Steve Greatwood, who is up at Oregon now. Looking back on it, I sometimes wish I had taken the opportunity because I would have had an opportunity to grow as a coach over those years, but the reality was I just wanted to get away from football and be one of the talking heads on TV. I thought that was something that was fascinating and so I did that; I worked in broadcasting for the better part of the next decade after I retired.
And then after that, I started noticing guys were getting bigger and bigger in the National Football League and bigger than me even and I thought, “Man, these guys getting huge but they weren’t having a lot of success.” And so one of the things that I noticed about the bigger guys is that they were not very efficient with the way they moved their bodes around technically, there seemed to be a lot lacking. And so I wanted to prove to myself that the things I had learned from Hudson Houck and Dan Radikovich were things that would work even for bigger guys.
I started a little consulting company where I train guys. I set out to find a couple of really big ones in the NFL and they really, really got better and made me feel like I was a critical part of their improvement. And it dawned on me that I really do have something to share and have something to give back. I’ve been fascinated by the opportunities I have been presented to do just that; I enjoy teaching. I spent the better part of my 20 year career not telling people what I was thinking technically, because most of the guys that would have been interested in that information were after my job. And so I didn’t spend a lot of time coaching up guys; on occasion, a guy would ask me about something and I would share with him, “You need to do this, you need to do that; it would help you with this or that,” but for the most part I just stayed to myself and just tried to hold onto my job. Well, when I found out that there was no threat and I began to share the things that I put into practice for myself, I noticed guys were growing, they getting better, they were being able to solve problems, they were excited about playing on the offensive line and they began to play with less trepidation about being aggressive. They knew they could be aggressive. They knew when to roll the dice; they just got better. I was delighted to be a part of the careers of a few men who told me that I helped them.
PS: Have you run into any problems trying to explain what you want from guys and get that feeling of, “Get out of the way, I’ll do it.”?
JS: (Laughs) Well, I tell the guys all the time that I only have two plays left in me and I’m saving those for my two sons if they get out of line, I’ll have to use them up on them. But the truth of the matter is on occasion, guys don’t seem to understand something I want to get across to them and I’ll jump in there and try to demonstrate it to them to the best of my abilities, but you know the Good Lord has given me the ability to verbalize things in such a way that guys can grasp it and sink their teeth into it and then go and try to apply it. It’s just been good fortune that I’ve been able to do that?
PS: Why Azusa Pacific? What drew you there?
JS: A unique set of circumstances presented themselves to me about three years ago. I met the coach, he met me, and he seemed to have been okay with me as a person. I liked the way he was interacting with his team and his young guys. One thing led to another and he extended the opportunity to me to come out there and coach. I had just been at the Oakland Raiders in 2006 with Art Shell in his last tour there and I personally was a failure; did not get the job done. And so when I left there, I really wanted to know and find out for myself if I could be a line coach and if I could get the job done. I had the opportunity to coach two years at Saddleback College for two years with the coaching staff there. He was very pleased with my work. And then I left there and I went to high school for a year and taught a class and worked with some high school players. They seemed to have been pleased with my work there. And then from there, I ended up at Azusa Pacific and I had the opportunity to be exposed to guys like Luke Marquardt and Robby Polacios; just some talented young men that worked real hard and love playing the game and wanted to learn, so it’s just been a utopic environment for me to be there and to give back and teach some of the guys that wanted to know some things.
PS: You mentioned you like teaching the big guys and they don’t come much bigger than Luke does. What has that experience been like?
JS: Well, when I left the high school, I had a 180lb offensive guard and one of my visits out to Azusa Pacific and one of the first people I saw was Luke Marquardt. And I’m thinking to myself, “You’ve got to be kidding me. This is who I should be working with right here (laughs).” Looking at Luke Marquardt, Robby Polacios, Justin Matthews who is 6’2” 320-325, Timmy Taylor and Graham Patterson; they were much bigger men, much more committed to playing on the offensive line and it was something that drew me. That passion with a bunch of big guys just drew me to Azusa Pacific and then the chance to work with a bigger guy who had the potential to go to the next level. That’s what I’ve been enjoying over the past three years there. And Luke has been a pleasure to work with.
PS: What is it going to take for Luke to succeed at the next level?
JS: I think the biggest thing is going to have to get there, get acclimated and understanding what the new coach is teaching him. And just and just going to have to go about the business of doing what he’s being taught and learning the new system. I don’t think he is going to fall short as a competitor. He is one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever been around. He really tries to dominate people. And I feel like when you take a guy that’s supremely gifted to play at the next level and you take his competitive spirit and package it with that giftedness physically, then what you’ll get is a very productive, maybe even dominant player at the next level. He’s got the attitude to try to dominate talent that is subpar, so you know he is going to take that attitude with superior talent; talent like his. The thing is that he’s just as gifted as anybody. And so that will give him an opportunity not only successful but to be dominant at the next level.
PS: It couldn’t have broken your heart too much that he moved him from tight end to tackle.
JS: Well, when I got there, they had already made that decision; he had already played tackle. He has already started to take pass sets and run block and everything, so they had gotten off to a good start with him, so I was able to come in there and just polish him up a little bit and get him headed in the right direction and he kind of took off. All he needed was a little bit of direction, like most good linemen, they direction, they need answers, they need tools, and I tried to give him those things and he just took them and ran with him.
And you’ve been working with a number of other players. Would you mind telling me about how you feel San Jose State Offensive Tackle David Quessenberry will be at the next level?
JS: Well, I think David Quessenberry has an extreme amount of versatility. He’s an offensive lineman that is going to be able to fit in a variety of systems. A lot of people are going to want a guy like him who can run and get to the next level, climb. He’s quick, he’s got good strength; he’s got all the things that you want in a smaller, more active offensive lineman but then on the other hand, he does a great job of anchoring and playing big man ball, if you will. And then his versatility; I had him snapping balls at center. He snapped balls and played very well in the Senior Bowl. He took pass sets at tackle, both right and left and then both guards. He’s the type of guy that has the aptitude that you can take him and you can play him almost anywhere you want. And then if you get a guy like that while he’s still young, you’ve a fabulous utility player who can be on your roster that can go and line up anywhere and get you out of a pinch as a backup even while he’s young. He’s got a lot of potential and I think a good future ahead of him.
PS: A lot of people, who have been watching tape of him, have been watching him play on a high ankle sprain. How much of a difference does a healthy David Quessenberry make?
JS: It’s unbelievable that he was able to do much of what he did with a high ankle sprain. I had a high ankle sprain, personally, and I missed 19 days of practice with it, so a high ankle sprain is no joke. It’s one of the most serious injuries that you can get. It’s different than a regular ankle sprain, trust me, it is very painful. And for him to go through and play the way he did with a high ankle sprain; it just speaks volumes to the intestinal fortitude that you’re getting with this young man. I liken it to what I heard Ray Lewis say; Ray Lewis was upset with all 32 teams, including his one time, for not drafting him first (laughs). Even though Jonathan Ogden is going to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, Ray Lewis felt like there were a lot of guys that were comfortably talented, but very few guys that brought the heart and soul of a football player to the table like he did. And when you think of what a man does when he plays with a high ankle sprain, he is bringing more than just his physique. He’s bringing an intangible that is going to stick with you, that is going to play with injury, that is going to do the extra things that are going you a chance to be successful.
PS: Speaking of going through some hardship through this process, his San Jose State teammate, Ryan Otten dealt with a staph infection as well as the flu through the Senior Bowl. What has it been like working with him?
JS: Ryan is a big, gifted guy. When you look at him and watch him move, you think (Aaron) Hernandez, you think (Rob) Gronkowski, you think all these big tight ends getting up the field, jumping and catching the ball, making one hand grabs; you think of all those things when you look at him. The thing that you don’t think of is him being an inline blocker like Gronkowski; probably better than or on par with Hernandez, but you just don’t think of him as inline, great blocker. Well, I took him and worked with him on his footwork, I worked with him on the concepts of being a drive blocker and he really took it. It’s amazing to me that you can have a guy like him who is so eager to learn about the things about the things that are not his strength. I never talked to him once about running a route, because I don’t know anything about that, but when I talked to him about blocking, inline blocking, being directionally explosive, he really worked at it, so I think it’s going to enhance his opportunities.
PS: I have no doubt you taught him far more than he already knew, but I was impressed with his blocking even before; he had a good sense of angles and how to take on blocks, but just needed a little more strength.
JS: Yea, well, he has that. There’s no doubt about that. He’s learned how to survive and how to be an effective blocker.
PS: On the other hand, you have 270lbs of Nick Kasa who is more of a blocker coming in-
JS: -Well, you would think that and he really is a strong blocker; he’s got strong legs, he’s going be able to get great leg drive, kind of like a Gronkowski type of guy. But the amazing thing about that kid is he gets up the field and he catches the ball well. He was really well taught by a former teammate of mine in college, Jon Embree, who was a tight end and got drafted by the Rams out of Colorado. So he had good tutors, he had some good footwork, he had some good fundamentals; really understands the passing game. Just a little bit more time I invested with him on his run blocking, just positioning of your feet, how you use your hands, how you get control of defenders, how you capture a guy’s momentum and use it against him. Those were the little things he really, really take to and I think I saw some improvement with him in his blocking.
PS: Did you only work the offensive lineman and tight ends or did you help out with the defensive linemen since you played offensive line?
JS: I mostly worked with the tight ends and the tackles. I feel it a betrayal of my professionalism to tell a defensive lineman what he needs do to beat me (laughs).
PS: Did you work with anyone else or just the four?
JS: Yea, there was actually a guy, Braden Wilson (Kansas State). He was another guy that was hampered a little bit, but boy, tough inline blocker, he’s an H-back type, catches the ball real well. It was just a joy working with those guys on the inline blocking. He was a hard working kid and he got better as well.
PS: What is the characteristic NFL teams are going to get from someone you’ve coached.
JS: Well, it’s not like I invested a ton of time in these kids; their coaches have done a great job of building a good base in all of these kids. But what I did was I just accentuated what were going to be the things they were really going to have to focus on; I accentuated those things and I remind them, I told them, “If you can do this, you will have a chance to be successful. If you don’t do this, you will fail. You will not have success if you can’t do this and that.” I was able to cut to the chase on many of the things they needed to hear about. It wasn’t like they were guessing what was important, what was unimportant, what was very important. I told them what was important, so they know. They know what was important. It’s not going to be a guessing game for them.
PS: Is there one guy out of all of them you feel like we’re going to be talking about in five years as a star player?
JS: I’m sort of partial to Luke Marquardt, because I obviously coached him and I think he’s going to, barring injury like anything else, if he stays healthy, he’s got a great upside. But I mean, I could say the same thing about any one of them. There was a running back down that they had down there that was absolutely prolific. He reminded me of Eric Dickerson; tall, upright runner, could change direction, and was smart. I put him on the board and he was really, really smart. He understood defenses and he drew the fronts up really well. He reminded me of Marshall Faulk, which is one of the smartest running backs I’ve ever been around.
PS: Are you talking about Latavius Murray (Out of Central Florida)?
JS: I believe so. I believe that was his name. So there was a lot of guys down there that I had the opportunity to get to know and spend some time with that were really impressive. Really impressive, so guys like Ryan (Otten) and David Quessenberry from San Jose State, Nick (Kasa), these guys were special, man. I have to take my hat off to them. I learn a lot from these new guys coming into this league and real work ethic. It just made me proud that were so many guys that reminded me of old school, throw back football players. Guys with dreams, ambition and they want to be good; it was just refreshing to see that type of a guy. I guess those people down there, they just want those type of a kid to represent, you know?
PS: Was there anything else you wanted to add?
JS: Just that it was a joy to work with guys and to teach them and to find guys so teachable; guys wanting to learn. That was the highlight of the time that I spent with those guys.
I spoke to the players discussed in this article and asked them about the opportunity to learn and spend time with Jackie Slater and how much it meant to them and how fortunate they felt they got to do it. I felt much the same way after getting a chance to speak with him. And as you can see, for the most part, I just gave him a jumping off point and listened to everything he had to say; truly a pleasure and an honor to speak with him as well as the rest of these guys, any of which I could have spent a few hours talking football if they would have let me.
Topics: 2013 NFL Mock Draft, Braden Wilson, Colorado Buffaloes Football, David Quessenberry, Eric Dickerson, Fullbacks, Jackie Slater, Kansas State Wildcats Football, Latavius Murray, Luke Marquardt, Marshall Faulk, NFL, NFL Draft 2013, Nick Kasa, Offensive Tackles, Running Backs, Ryan Otten, San Jose State Spartans Football, St. Louis Rams, Tight Ends, University Of Central Florida Golden Knights Football