I'm going to try and knock two of these out today. Wish me luck.
Let me start by expressing my bias. I am a huge Nick Hardwick fan. The couple of times I've chatted with him, I've come away thinking "That's one of the most down-to-earth people I've ever met." He's likable and funny. He cares about football, his teammates and protecting his Quarterback. Outside of a few injuries (we'll get to those), Nick has been everything you could ask for from an NFL Center.
I own two Chargers jerseys. Philip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson. I have been very tempted to buy a Nick Hardwick jersey, and probably would've by now if I had found a bag of money lying on the ground. I like the guy, and I think everyone else does too....including the Chargers and A.J. Smith, who grabbed Hardwick in the 3rd round of the 2004 draft and has been getting Pro Bowl-like results ever since.
Offensive linemen are hard to translate into a post like this because they don't really have stats. You'll notice this from both posts today (that's a hint!). They're even somewhat difficult to scout for this reason. You need someone to actually watch a bunch of tape, or be at the actual game, and also have an understanding of the talent level of the person the linemen is going up against. The Chargers have been pretty good at drafting O-linemen thusfar, and Hardwick is no exception.
Nick was part of A.J. Smith's plan to revamp the entire offensive line, which (according to Football Outsiders) had made Drew Brees look like a worse Quarterback than he actually was. Even young Jason Ball, a 24 year old Center that many though had locked down the starter's spot for a while, was not safe. Let's compare the 2003 and 2004 offensive lines for the San Diego Chargers.
Each one of those guys got at least 7 starts that season, with Raymer (the only veteran) eventually losing his job to Ball. A young group, you'd think the GM's stance would be "Keep them together and they'll improve". Not Smith, though, who saw a lack of pass-blocking talent (they were very good run blockers) and started over.
Oben was brought in as a stop-gap until Smith could find a Pro Bowl LT. Goff was signed as the consistent veteran rock. The other three guys were either rookies of 2nd year players, and they all played well enough to help the team go from 4-12 in 2003 to 12-4 in 2004.
Although the team's run-blocking numbers took a step back, the pass-blocking numbers took a big step forward. True, Brees was sacked only 3 less times in 2004 than 2003, but that just shows how good Drew was as getting rid of the football and not taking a negative play. The number that shows how much time and protection he had is yards per pass play, which went from 5.9 in 2003 to 7.9 in 2004. That probably also had something to do with Keenan McCardell being traded for and Antonio Gates being given the starter's job, but still.....this was an ushering in of the new Chargers guard on the offensive line, and it was led by Hardwick.
Hardwick's role in not just as a blocker. He is also the guy who reads the blitzes and calls out assignments for the rest of the line. He's the leader and captain of the offensive line, like most talented Centers around the league. The only time this has hurt the team is when he has been hurt himself and missed some time. Before 2010, Hardwick failed to play more than 13 games in 3 consecutive seasons (missing all but 3 in 2009). To try and counteract this, Nick put on more weight than he's every had before the 2010 season and ended up playing every game without so much as a missed play.
Nick Hardwick is signed through 2011 with the San Diego Chargers.
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