With the yellow metal upright leaning on its side in the south end zone at Doug Hitchen Stadium on Saturday, it seemed as though something big must have rattled the football field.
There were, in fact, some beastly, larger-than-life figures stomping around, but that turned out just to be coincidence.
Gearing up for his upcoming training camp with the St. Louis Rams, former Arroyo Grande High and Oregon standout Mark Lewis was back in town.
And the 6-foot-3, 305-pound NFL guard along with his former Oregon teammate — 6-6, 331-pound Carolina Panthers tackle Geoff Schwartz — weren’t just there to make former Arroyo Grande lineman and Cal Poly All-American Stephen Field feel small. The trio instructed an offensive lineman camp for high school players who were also attending Arroyo Grande’s weekend passing tournament. Their footfalls reportedly had nothing to do with the lopsided goalpost, but the pros still stood out across the stadium as the biggest men on the field.
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“I’m not used to feeling like the smallest guy,” said Field, a 6-1 former center who played at 280 pounds, “but whenever I’m around these guys, I do.”
In the first of what is intended to become an annual event, the nearly 60 players who attended learned technique directly from NFL caliber players thanks to Lewis, who spent time last season with the Miami Dolphins’ and Seattle Seahawks’ practice squads and goes into this training camp looking to earn a roster spot in St. Louis after signing with the Rams on Dec. 31, 2009.
The former Arroyo Grande tight end and state shot put champion wanted to bring a clinic designed specifically for lineman to his alma mater since his college days at Oregon.
It was too hectic to fit into his schedule leading up to his rookie season last year, but Lewis made it a priority since offseason player development for linemen is often overlooked.
“There’s a lot of emphasis on skill positions and people kind of shun offensive lineman,” Lewis said. “Doing an O-line camp just feels right being an offensive lineman.”
Typically not included in the passing exercises, the linemen got 1-on-1 pointers from the pros during blocking drills for nearly three hours, then wrapped up the session with a question-and-answer period.
Jerardo Torres, a 6-1, 230-pound two-way lineman going into his senior season at Nipomo High, was particularly enthused by the camp, eager to learn what Lewis and Schwartz had to offer.
“The footwork. That’s what we need, where all the power comes from,” Torres said. “It doesn’t matter how much you bench or how much you spot. If you have the footwork, you can overpower anyone.
“I feel great. This is an experience I’m always going to have with me.”
Field, now an assistant coach at Arroyo Grande, said the turnout was bigger than expected for a camp that wasn’t highly publicized, but Lewis is aiming to grow the numbers and exposure.
“Being as it is the first year, we have three guys helping out,” Lewis said. “And I figured as more people come, I could start phoning friends, and get all your buddies from the pros and all your friends from high school to help out and hopefully turn it into a big thing.”
Schwartz was comfortable leading the way. Though he hasn’t started his own camp yet, the Los Angeles native has helped out several former teammates with others this offseason.
A former seventh-round NFL Draft pick in 2008, Schwartz spent his first season on the Panthers’ practice squad before being added to the active roster last season, when he started three games and became a member of the line blocking for the prolific running back duo DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
Though Schwartz was teaching Saturday, he said he’s never stopped being a student.
“You learn a lot, and you have to keep learning,” Schwartz said. “Once you get complacent is when you get beat. Whether it’s a 10-year guy that learns a little bit of scheme every day or me. I’m a young guy, so I’m still learning footwork, hands placement, and I’m learning scheme stuff.”
Lewis and Schwartz joined the Ducks in the same recruiting class in 2004, though Schwartz skipped his redshirt season and played as a true freshman.
An undrafted free agent in 2009, Lewis is hoping his development can follow along the lines of his friend — from NFL practice squad member to a contributor on Sundays.
Lewis is optimistic he can win a job as one of the bodyguards of quarterback and first overall draft pick Sam Bradford of Oklahoma.
If not, he’ll be in a familiar spot shopping for another team, but with Bradford, running back Steven Jackson and coach Steve Spagnuolo in his second year, Lewis said there is an aura of enthusiasm in St. Louis, despite coming off a 1-15 finish last year.
“There’s a lot of optimism everywhere,” Lewis said. “We’ve got the pieces in place. Now, it’s just finally time to plug them in and get it rolling. There’s a very encouraged spirit with the players. We’re all ready to win, and I think that’s the first step.”