Walter Jones: Countdown to Canton with Tom Lovat

Posted Jul 22, 2014

Nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 2.

Unlike quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and even defensive players, there just aren’t enough statistics to make comparisons between offensive linemen.

At least that’s the conventional-wisdom assessment.

But Tom Lovat isn’t buying it. Lovat was the Seahawks’ offensive line coach and assistant head coach for five seasons (1999-2003) before calling it a 24-season NFL coaching career. So when Lovat says that Walter Jones was best lineman he ever coached, that’s not only saying quite a bit, he’s got one number in particular to prove it: Nine.

That was the apex digit in Lovat’s grading system for his linemen and only one lineman ever achieved it: No. 71, Jones. It happened in a Week 9 game against the Oakland Raiders in 2001, and it helped pave the way for Shaun Alexander to rush for a club-record 266 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-27 victory.

In Alexander’s near-perfect performance it was Jones who attained perfection.

“As a coach, you’re looking for things a player might do wrong,” Lovat said at the time, shaking his head. But no matter how many times he reviewed the video of that game at Husky Stadium, “It was hard to find something wrong with Walt,” Lovat added.

Think about that for a moment: 66 offensive plays, and even more blocks than that for Jones; 42 running plays, 35 by Alexander; 23 pass plays, and only one sack of Matt Hasselbeck; 497 total yards, then the fourth-highest total in team history; no sacks allowed by Jones, or even a single pressure; not one missed block, or even a mental error; technique that was as close to flawless as Lovat had ever seen.

So there it was, the first perfect score ever handed out by a coach who also had worked with Hall of Famer Dan Dierdorf while with the St. Louis Cardinals, three-time Pro Bowler Luis Sharpe while with the Phoenix Cardinals and seven-time Pro Bowler Chris Hinton while with the Indianapolis Colts.

That’s a 9.0 on a scale where that grade signifies an All-Pro player (which Jones was six times); 8.0 is a Pro Bowl player (which Jones was nine times); and 7.0 is a good player you can win with (which Jones obviously was, and then some).

On Aug. 2, Jones will achieve a status of 10 when he is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. It has been 10 seasons since Lovat coached Jones, but the time has not diminished the memories of dominance that Jones displayed on an uncannily consistent basis.

“Of all the guys I’ve coached, Walt is the most complete lineman that I’ve dealt with,” Lovat said in a recent telephone interview. “They’re all different types. There’s a Dan Dierdorf, who’s not much of an athlete but just a brute and a helluva smart football player.

“Then there’s Walt. He’s got the natural talents. He’s got great feet. He has a good feel for the game. He’s just quiet and unassuming.”

To commemorate Jones’ latest – and greatest – football achievement, is asking those who coached him, played with him and knew him best for their thoughts on him. Today, it’s Lovat.

The connection: By the time the Seahawks made Jones the sixth pick in the 1997 NFL Draft, Lovat had been coaching in the league for 16 seasons – with the Green Bay Packers (1980 and 1992-96), St. Louis Cardinals (1981-84), Indianapolis Colts (1985-88) and Phoenix Cardinals (1990-91). By the time Lovat arrived in Seattle in 1999 as part of Mike Holmgren’s staff, Jones had played his first two NFL seasons.

“We all knew Walt coming out, anybody that had anything to do with drafts. Everybody knew his talent,” said Lovat, who will attend Jones’ induction ceremony. “And coaching him was a pleasure. Walt was a good team man. He didn’t have any hang-ups as far as ego or anything like that is concerned.

“He was just a natural. You didn’t have to do too much to coach him, just put him in right position.”

Jones played for five position coaches in his 12 seasons – Howard Mudd (1997), Gregg Smith (1998), Lovat (1999-03), Bill Laveroni (2004-07) and Mike Solari (2008) – but none longer than Lovat (five seasons).

The congratulations: “There’s no question that Walt belongs in the Hall of Fame, not at all. That’s for sure,” Lovat said. “Linemen in that category, you’d have to dig deep to find guys like that. Other teams have had them, I’m sure. But Walter was the only one I had that had all the talents.”

In closing: “The one thing that stood out about Walt was the total package,” Lovat said. “Because he’s nimble, he’s never out of position. He’s got the gifts. You start from the feet up. He’s got great feet. He’s go snap in his butt. He’s got power. He sustains blocks. He had good recoverability. He’s got the package, that’s for sure.”