New Cleveland Browns offensive line coach Bill Callahan has a vast knowledge and experience of the game. One of the benefits from all of that experience is just how often Callahan has a natural reference point. His encyclopedic knowledge and professorial style help demonstrate why he was such a big hire for the Browns as one of the best offensive line coaches in football.
While so many have discussed rookie offensive Jedrick Wills in terms of Tyron Smith, the Dallas Cowboys left tackle, because both entered the NFL with the intent of switching from right tackle to left tackle, Callahan reached into his impressive history and pulled the name Barry Sims, even going one more step, comparing Sims to another former offensive lineman in John Fina, who played for the Buffalo Bills from 1992 to 2002.
“When I was looking at him in the draft, I thought well I had (Cowboys T) Tyron Smith in Dallas and we all know that story, but the one that sticks out for me is when I was in Oakland, I had a player by the name of (former Raiders OL) Barry Sims. During that time, Barry had come to us as an undrafted free agent, he had an injury sustained in an All-Star game and was not drafted that spring. He ended up in the World League. He kind of bounced around a little bit. Then we had him in camp. We had two first-round selections in (former NFL OL) Matt Stinchcomb and (former NFL OL) Mo Collins. Mo Collins, we ended up moving him to guard, and then Stinchcomb was really a fine player out of Georgia who got hurt during that period of time in training camp. Really, our backs were against the wall. I started moving players around.
I remember (Raiders Head Coach) Jon Gruden telling me, Barry Sims, he wanted to get rid of him. He wanted him out of the training camp. I asked him and I said, ‘Just give me a couple more days with this guy. I think he can play.’ He reminded me a lot of John Fina, for those of you who can remember Fina up in Buffalo. I said, ‘Just give me a couple of days with him. I think he can play. This guy has got some talent.’ We put him on the left side, and he was fixture there for about six-seven years and he ended up in San Francisco. He reminded me of Barry just because of the athletic movement, and Barry was not the biggest or stoutest tackle in the league at the time. In fact, he was a little bit of a runt of the litter with the line that we had in Oakland. (Former Raiders OT) Lincoln Kennedy was there, he was 370 pounds. (Former NFL OL) Frank Middleton was 360. Collins was 360. When I got Barry Sims, he was 320, if you can even believe that and that was the smallest guy we had at the time. Going back to the comparison, I really thought Jedrick reminded me of Barry in that he could make that switch easily because of his athleticism.”
For people unfamiliar with Barry Sims, Sims went to Utah after starting his college career in the JUCO ranks at Dixie Junior College. While at practices for the Hula Bowl, he blew out his knee. The injury he suffered was bad enough that it was initially thought his football career might be over. While healing and rehabbing the injury, Sims went back to college at Utah to finish a degree in sociology.
Once he completed his rehab, he tried out for teams, but many were concerned he wouldn't be able to survive an NFL season. A full two years after the injury he sustained, Sims found himself drafted in the 17th round of the NFL Europe Draft by the Scottish Claymores, where he started at tackle. That enabled him an opportunity to sign with the then Oakland Raiders, making the team as a reserve.
Sims was in the starting lineup just five weeks into the season and his first game was against the legendary Bruce Smith. The Raiders would go on to win the game in no small part to a potent rushing attack, piling up 195 yards. Sims would go on to play nine seasons with the Raiders, starting 119 games in the Silver and Black before his final three seasons were spent with the San Francisco 49ers. In all, he played a twelve year career, most of which was spent at left tackle, where he had a solid career including a trip to the Super Bowl with the Raiders in 2002.
Callahan also answered a question about it takes to switch positions on the offensive line and he dug into his history and pulled out a number of examples of players he coached that made switches, but not just limited to tackles. They all either switched sides of the line or in the case of former offensive lineman Damien Woody, changed from center to tackle.
“One is you have to want to go over there. Tyron (Smith) was really wide open to it. Nothing phased him because he is such of a competitor. When we made the switch, it was seamless for him. He had a few bumps in the road like they are all going to have, but he was quite confident not only that he can make the switch. From a muscle-memory standpoint, you have to get groove. A lot of that really depends on the training, the reps and all that, but when you are grooving a player, they need constant, consistent reps day in and day out to get their game up to the level that you want it. That is any position that you flex with.
Let’s say we had (Dallas Cowboys G) Zack Martin, who we moved from college left tackle to right guard. We did the same thing in Washington with (Redskins G Brandon) Scherff, who was a left tackle at Iowa and then he came over and he played right guard for us when he was drafted.
Throughout my career, I have had a lot of guys that I have mixed and matched and moved around. One of the other guys that comes to mind is Damien Woody, who was a center for New England. He was drafted in the first round, and when he hit free agency, he ended up in Detroit and got hurt and was looking for another position to play. When I was at the Jets (former NFL executive) Mike Tannenbaum did a great job in signing him and we made a RT out of him for years. He did a great job there, as well. It is interesting, some guys can make the switches and some guys can’t, but it is always fun. If they want to do it, they will make the switch.”