Offensive lineman brings experience with big-play offense
There's a certain beauty that goes along with the execution of a perfect block. It's not all about how much a lineman can bench press.
"People don't realize how much work it is," said Doug Palmer, a 6-foot-3, 300-pound guard who joined the Seattle-Tacoma Cobras on March 16. "You have to break down different things. Technique beats strength."
As training camp opened for the Professional Developmental Football League team, Palmer was among the Cobras who were coming together for their first field-related organized team activity at Decatur High School in Federal Way.
One thing was clear: It'll take a few more practices for brand-new teammates to gel.
That didn't seem to bother Palmer, a run-oriented lineman from East Carolina. Football is a universal language, especially when it comes to recognizing defensive fronts.
"You get a read off the defense, whether you're covered or not," he said. "Whether you've got a nose tackle in front of you or a three-technique (tackle).
It worked well in Conference USA, particularly when Palmer was blocking for fellow Pirate Chris Johnson, who's now considered to be one of the best running backs in the NFL. During his senior year at East Carolina in 2007, the current Tennessee Titans star rushed for 1,423 yards and 17 touchdowns — much of it behind Palmer.
"He's probably the fastest running back I've ever blocked for," Palmer said. "You blocked longer than you think you needed to with him."
Johnson's statistics were incredible that season. He had a career-high 301 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a 56-40 win over Memphis, and he cemented his first-round NFL Draft status with his final appearance in the Hawaii Bowl when he totaled 408 all-purpose yards in the Pirates' 41-38 win over Boise State.
"You're only as good as your linemen," Palmer joked. "(Johnson) and the (ECU) o-line coach said that all the time."
"The first reason was just to get out of the house," he said.
Showing his versatility, Palmer switched to play defense to help address a shortage during his freshman year at East Carolina, but he moved back to the offensive line for Johnson's record-breaking 2007, and Palmer was an all-conference honorable mention.
Unfortunately, it came with a price. Palmer said he tore his right pectoral muscle sometime during the season and played through it for most of his junior year, too, when he started 12 of 14 games and recorded a team-best 48 knockdowns.
The Pirates won the 2008 Conference USA championship and also had early season victories against Virginia Tech and West Virginia, both nationally ranked at the time.
That season, Palmer received East Carolina's "Crunch" award for having the most big hits, an honor given to one player both on offense and defense.
He finally had surgery prior to his senior year and missed all of spring ball in 2009. On Saturday, Palmer pointed to the top of his right pectoral near his shoulder and said the muscle is no longer there.
East Carolina went to bowl games in each of Palmer's four seasons, and he was part of the first Pirates teams to win consecutive conference championships. They played an SEC opponent in the Liberty Bowl following the 2008 and 2009 seasons, although they lost both contests, first to Kentucky, 25-19, and then to Arkansas, 20-17 in overtime.
East Carolina also reached the Papajohns.com Bowl following Palmer's freshman year in 2006, although South Florida beat the Pirates, 24-7.
Since he left college, Palmer played for a couple of European teams, but neither won a game.
"It's taking some time over there," he said. "They're still trying to learn the game."
Palmer describes himself as an old-school type of player who loves to pull from the right side of the line and clear out some running room on the other side of the field.
"I expect to learn the game a lot more," he said about this season. "I'm going to focus on technique and footwork.
"If you have not footwork, you aren't going to make it out there."
By Brian McLean