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A glimpse into greatness
Opponents weren’t the only ones who spent countless hours trying to decipher just what it was that made Walter Jones so dominating. That quest spread to his own teammates.
“We always tried to dissect Walt and figure out what made it work, because everybody wanted to do what he did,” said Steve Hutchinson, an All-Pro left guard who played next to Jones from 2001-05.
Their conclusion was what Hutchinson calls “our anthropological assessment.”
Meaning? “Walt had a very long torso and short legs,” Hutchinson said. “So he had a very low center of gravity. It seemed like his legs moved a mile a minute, like a duck underwater. He was so calm on top, but underneath is feet were going like crazy.”
Thursday, those duck-like legs carried Jones, his torso and all those skills into retirement after 13 seasons with the Seahawks – a span that included nine Pro Bowls, six All-Pro selections, a berth on the NFL All-Decade team for the 2000s and 180 starts.
What Hutchinson and his mates also concluded was more obvious when it came to the best left tackle of his generation, and perhaps all-time: Not many – if any – people could do all the things that Walter Jones made look so easy.
“Walt was the epitome of an offensive lineman,” Hutchinson said. “He didn’t get beat. He never talked. As an offensive lineman, it’s an unwritten rule where you don’t talk to the media; you don’t want to be the quote guy.
“Walt was all that stuff. When you think of offensive linemen – big, silent, strong – that was Walt.”
Robbie Tobeck, the Seahawks center from 2000-07, also remembers those film sessions that quickly turned into admiration society meetings.
“Hutch, as great as he is. (Right guard) Chris Gray, the warrior that he was. We would sit in meetings and whisper, ‘Watch Walt on this play,’ ” Tobeck said. “All the things you look for and want, Walter has them.”
It’s just that not enough people saw how special Jones was, because he played his entire career in one of the league’s more remote outposts.
“If Walter Jones was on another team that was centrally located, everybody would know how great he really is,” said Hall of Fame defensive tackle John Randle, who played for the Seahawks from 2001-03.
With that said, here’s a closer look at what his teammates discovered in their hunt for what made Walt tick:
Athletic ability – Hutchinson referred to Jones’ gifts as “freakishly athletic talent,” and he wasn’t the only one to grab onto a variation on the “freakish” theme.
But it was Tobeck who got an in-your-face look when he signed with the Seahawks in 2000 after playing six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.
“I had always been the fastest lineman on any team I played on,” said Tobeck, who went to Washington State before signing with the Falcons. “We’re working out one day and he’s laughing at me. I’m running with everything I’ve got, and he’s toying with me when we were racing.
“So I said, ‘OK, well he’s bigger than me and faster than me.’ ”
Then the workout moved to the weight room, which Tobeck considered his domain – especially in the squat.
“I’m like, ‘OK, I’ll get him in the squat,’ ” Tobeck said. “Instead, he buried me.
“It’s God-given ability that he took and developed even more by hard work and dedication.”
Demeanor – “Big Walt,” as he became known, also was a gentle giant. His quiet persona made it that much easier to like him off the field, and that much harder to determine how he flipped the switch on the field.
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“I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it one last time here: God knew what he was doing by giving Walter Jones that ability, because he was a humble guy and a hard worker,” Tobeck said. “If I had gotten that ability, I’d have probably been the biggest (rear end) in the world. Because I would have been cocky, and letting you know it.”
Tobeck laughed when he said that, and just-retired defensive end Patrick Kerney laughed even harder when told of Tobeck’s statement. Kerney played with Tobeck in Atlanta, and later with Jones and Tobeck in Seattle.
“At least he’s self aware,” Kerney cracked.
But somber didn’t translate into docile when it came to Jones.
“God help the defensive lineman who ever made him mad,” Tobeck said.
Feet – It was Hutchinson who first likened the niftiness of Jones’ size-15 feet to those of a running back. But he wasn’t the last.
“His feet were un-be-lievable,” Tobeck said.
Randle agrees. He played with Jones for three seasons but, oddly enough, never against him while with the Minnesota Vikings.
“Walt was a guy who had great feet,” Randle said. “Because of that, he never got out of position. He never made a lot of mistakes, so catching Walt out of position was very hard to do.
“He is what you want to model your offensive tackles to be. He just looked the part and, more importantly, always played the part.”
Hands – With Jones, they’re more like paws. And he used them to slap around 300-pound opponents like they weighed 180.
“Walter had good timing with his hands,” said Tom Lovat, the Seahawks’ line coach from 1999-2003. “He knew how to punch, and when he should punch.”
Arms – They are long, and powerful. Even when beaten slightly at the snap, Jones could neutralize the opponent with a quick, decisive thrust of his arms.
“He was so powerful that when he’d push guys they’d go straight to the ground with their momentum,” former fullback Mack Strong said. “It was something to behold.”
One play stands out in Strong’s memory. It came in the NFC Championship game at Qwest Field after the 2005 season. The Seahawks were at the Carolina 20-yard line and Jones was matched – or perhaps mismatched is a better description – against Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker.
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“I don’t know how many times we watched this play over and over,” Strong said. “Walter drove Rucker 3 yards deep into the end zone, and then fell on top of him. It was scary. I’d never seen anybody – of all the years I’ve played – do that. Not on video. Not in person.
“To see Walter do to that guy what he did, it was just amazing.”
Strength – When Jones arrived in 1997, Strong already had been with the club for three seasons and was, quite honestly, more concerned with taking care of the things it would take for him to become the starting fullback than what some rookie tackle was doing.
“At some point, I started looking at Walter and was like, ‘Wow, goodnight,’ ” Strong said. “Walter was just crushing people. And it was typically the best player on the other team – a Pro Bowl player. Walter was just controlling the guy, with hardly any effort. It’s shocking.
“I’m sure it must have been like what other players felt while watching Michael Jordan play. You get caught up with, and enamored by, his ability to do what he does. He makes everybody else look like we’re college players.”
Kerney knows the feeling, from the other side of the line.
“Even on the run blocks, with most tackles you hit into them, you lock them out and you’ve got a nice little stalemate,” Kerney said. “With Walt, you hit him, you lock out, but for some reason you keep moving backwards. And you can’t figure out why, because nobody else does that to you.”
Balance – It started with those freakish feet that Hutchinson always alluded to. It usually ended with Jones making his block, even on those rare occasions when it looked impossible.
“He would be beaten, with all his weight on his outside leg,” Hutchinson said. “If you froze the film, you’d say, ‘Oh, Walt is going to fly in his face and this guy is going to hit the quarterback.’ Then you push play again, and Walt had somehow regained his balance, put his weight all the way on the other side of his body, gotten in front the guy again and blocked him completely out of the picture.”
“I just feel so fortunate to have played next to probably one of the best – if not the best – offensive linemen to ever play the game,” Hutchinson said.