LITTLE FOR THE MIDDLE

November 03, 1997

Oilers center Mark Stepnoski hasn't earned five consecutive Pro
Bowl selections by steamrolling mammoth defenders. As the
smallest starting offensive lineman in the NFL, the 6'2",
269-pound Stepnoski relies on technique instead of power when
facing defenders, who can outweigh him by 50 or 60 pounds. On
Sunday in Tempe, Ariz., Stepnoski spent some of his day going
against Eric Swann, the Cardinals' 6'5", 313-pound Pro Bowl
tackle. Stepnoski helped pave the way for Eddie George to run
for 71 yards, and the Oilers scored their most points since 1995
in a 41-14 win. Here Stepnoski explains the techniques he uses
against one of the league's best interior linemen.

"Swann is special because he's got all the tools a guy needs to
be a very good tackle. He's strong and quick. A lot of guys are
one or the other, but he's both, so you have to consider that on
every play.

"You can watch most guys on film and figure out how to approach
them. But Swann doesn't have a signature move, like the way
Reggie White uses his arm as a club to knock a lineman out of
the way. Swann's game is built on power. He tries to shove you
around. Against him you have to do the basics but do them a lot
better than usual: You have to get your hands inside his arms
before he does the same to you, stay lower than him and move
your feet. By keeping your hands inside, you get control of him.

"You know right away whether you've blown it with Swann. If you
let him rush right into you and you don't have your hands
inside, then he's going to have control and you're going to be
moving backward. From there he'll continue to bullrush you or
just go to one side of you or the other.

"I shake my head when I see how some guys try to block him. You
have to be the aggressor because he will overwhelm you with his
power. Sometimes you see a guy backing up when he's going to
pass-block Swann. You can't do that, because you're giving him a
head start. You have to hold your ground. Once you start going
backward, you'll have a hard time recovering.

"Our basic running plays are handoffs to Eddie to either the
strong side or the weak side. We'll run these against anyone
because we think we're good at them. Some defensive guys try to
blow the gaps against these runs. But Swann tries to tie up
blockers to free the linebackers to make tackles. Usually I can
tell how a defender plans to attack by studying his alignment on
film. Most guys have tendencies you can bank on, but Swann
doesn't give anything away. He's good at covering up.

"Nowadays it seems like every team has a great player like Swann
on the defensive line. Everyone I play against is bigger than
me. The only way I can get by is with technique."

--RICHARD DEUTSCH

COLOR PHOTO: JESSEN ASSOCIATES Stepnoski (left) also sparred with Eric Hill. [Mark Stepnoski and Eric Hill in game]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)