During NFL Honors this Thursday — where the NFL announces awards like MVP and coach of the year — they will be announcing the Hall of Fame class this year. The reason that is noteworthy is that we could see offensive tackle Willie Anderson actually make it.
Anderson is currently one of 15 modern finalists for the Hall of Fame. He was one of the best tackles during his era. He opened holes for Corey Dillon and Rudi Johnson on top of being a huge part of the successful years with Carson Palmer at quarterback. If you’d like to read more about his qualifications, check out a deep dive from John Sheeran.
The potential Hall of Famer has taken a more hands-on role helping the next generation of offensive linemen develop as players, but more importantly, people.
“I always wished as a kid that somebody would come back to our neighborhood,” Anderson told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “I always wondered why Oprah Winfrey or Michael Jordan didn’t come to Mobile and showed us how they made it. Kids like Paris, Zeke, Jackson, that’s why I started my academy. To not only help them as football players but in life, too. The NFL doesn’t care about a former guy working with high school kids until the high school kid goes to the pros. My goal is to impact young men, whether they go to the NFL or not.”
It truly does go under the radar as a thankless job when people put their time towards these kids developing the right traits to become good players, but also good people. All the recognition comes when a guy gets drafted and everyone talks about where they came from, but for as many stories as we have of these young men making it to the NFL, there are hundreds of young men going on to provide for their families and themselves. That can’t be understated, and it is nice to see Anderson recognize that fact and embrace it.
The nuance of playing offensive line is often lost on many casual and educated fans alike. There is far more to it than just blocking the guy in front of you. You have to make sure you do things like keep your balance, move your weight correctly and use proper hand placement. Messing up on any of those things during a rep could result in an easy sack or getting a run blown up.
You don’t have to take our word for it, though. One of Anderson’s former pupils is now starting for Notre Dame at center — Zeke Correll. Anderson has been working with the young linemen recently to get him prepared for what high college level play will have in store for him.
“When I was going into my junior year in high school I got in touch with Willie through a family friend, and he worked me out at Anderson,” Correll said. “It absolutely helped me. Some of the stuff he taught, like footwork, you’re just not going to get at the high school level. Even just getting into my stance. Just being able to load up my weight in a beneficial way helped me a bunch.”
It also isn’t lost on these young players how great of an offensive linemen they have teaching them.
“Willie was such a great player, allowing something like a sack every year and none for three years is unheard of,” Correll said. “And he’s such a good offensive line coach. I’m sure I’ll be talking to him more now that I’m at this level. Just being able to keep in touch picking his mind, just learning some of the stuff he knows would be awesome for me.”
Clearly, what Anderson does isn’t something most parents volunteering to coach little league are able to offer. Even at the simplest level, it isn’t uncommon for people who know quite a bit about football to not know the fundamentals to teach young players about the offensive line.
“Everyone throws a ball. Everyone plays catch. Everybody considers themselves a Ray Lewis or a great defensive end causing a sack-fumble on the quarterback,” Anderson said. “They all go outside doing that. No one goes outside to play offensive line. The mom and dad have no clue of what you have to do on the offensive line.”
If Anderson makes it into the Hall of Fame Thursday night, he will just be the second Bengals representative in Canton. He would be joining Anthony Muñoz who made it after his great career at left tackle. The Bengals are one of the least represented teams despite their lengthy history.
NFL Honors is a two-hour special on NFL Network starting at 9 p.m. on February 10th. Here is a list of the other modern finalist for the NFL Hall of Fame.
- Jared Allen, Defensive End – 2004-07 Kansas City Chiefs, 2008-2013 Minnesota Vikings, 2014-15 Chicago Bears, 2015 Carolina Panthers
- Willie Anderson, Offensive Tackle – 1996-2007 Cincinnati Bengals, 2008 Baltimore Ravens
- Ronde Barber, Cornerback/Safety – 1997-2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Tony Boselli, Offensive Tackle – 1995-2001 Jacksonville Jaguars, 2002 Houston Texans (injured reserve)
- LeRoy Butler, Safety – 1990-2001 Green Bay Packers
- Devin Hester, Punt Returner/Kick Returner/Wide Receiver – 2006-2013 Chicago Bears, 2014-15 Atlanta Falcons, 2016 Baltimore Ravens
- Torry Holt, Wide Receiver – 1999-2008 St. Louis Rams, 2009 Jacksonville Jaguars
- Andre Johnson, Wide Receiver – 2003-2014 Houston Texans, 2015 Indianapolis Colts, 2016 Tennessee Titans
- Sam Mills, Linebacker – 1986-1994 New Orleans Saints, 1995-97 Carolina Panthers
- Richard Seymour, Defensive End/Defensive Tackle – 2001-08 New England Patriots, 2009-2012 Oakland Raiders
- Zach Thomas, Linebacker – 1996-2007 Miami Dolphins, 2008 Dallas Cowboys
- DeMarcus Ware, Linebacker/Defensive End – 2005-2013 Dallas Cowboys, 2014-16 Denver Broncos
- Reggie Wayne, Wide Receiver – 2001-2014 Indianapolis Colts
- Patrick Willis, Linebacker – 2007-2014 San Francisco 49ers
- Bryant Young, Defensive Tackle/Defensive End – 1994-2007 San Francisco 49ers