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RAMS '89 : ASSEMBLY LINE : Ram Blockers Inherit, Continue Proud Tradition of Developing Replacement Parts

September 08, 1989|STEVE LOWERY | Times Staff Writer

Hudson Houck will be diagramming trust just after he's through punching at the air to show why sumo wrestlers make great pulling guards.

The art of the sale never stops, and neither does the man who is never far from a magic marker and an explanation.

"Trust. Trust is so important, trusting that the other guy is going to be there. Let me show you why," he said.

Minutes later, he's demonstrating how sumo wrestlers control their opponents by controlling the chest, a technique he advocates for his boys.

Houck has been the Rams' offensive line coach for the past seven years, and in that time his lines have consistently been among the best in the NFL.

Of course, when Houck was at USC--he came to the Rams when John Robinson did--he produced some of the best lines, and linemen, in that school's history: Marvin Powell, Brad Budde, Keith Van Horne, Bruce Matthews and Don Mosebar.

In his time with the Rams, the team has had at least three offensive linemen selected to the Pro Bowl in every season but one. That was 1984, when two Rams were named. The next season, 1985, the Rams regained their average by placing four linemen on the team.

The twist is this: even before there was a Hudson Houck on the Ram sideline, there were great Ram lines. In fact, there's been a virtual unbroken chain of exceptional Ram offensive lines stretching back to the mid-1960s.

Consider that in that time, the Rams have gone through five coaches, three owners and two home stadiums, and yet nothing has changed where the big boys play.

Since 1966, the Rams have had seven different backs--ranging in size, talent and demeanor from Dick Bass to Lawrence McCutcheon to Eric Dickerson to Greg Bell--rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season.

Since 1967, no Pro Bowl team has been complete without a Ram interior lineman. Six times in that period, the Rams have placed three linemen on the team and twice, four players.

"We must have been doing something right all these years, because they keep voting in our direction," said Doug Smith, Ram center and a five-time Pro Bowl selection himself.

But what is it? Every coaching staff has its theories and schemes. When Houck took over, he changed the schemes of the previous coaching staff (Ray Malavasi's) and remembers getting a lot of funny looks as he was doing it.

The Rams have been lucky to have had two exceptional offensive line coaches--one who built the tradition and one who now carries it on.

The first is Ray Prochaska, who coached the line from 1966 to 1970 under George Allen and then returned to coach it for another five under Chuck Knox (1973-77).

The second is Houck.

So despite five head coaches, the offensive line has been in the hands of these two men for 17 of the past 24 seasons.

Though they've never coached together, and though they've met only a few times, they are very similar in their thoughts and approaches to the game.

Ask them about new techniques and they'll ask you why you would bother tinkering with what works?

Mammoth linemen? Both will scoff at the idea that bigger is necessarily better and proceed to tell of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who won four Super Bowls with some of the smallest lines of the time.

The single most important principle in blocking?

"Stick and stay," Prochaska said.

"Finish the block, stay on him as long as you can," Houck said.

The single most important attribute in a line coach?

"Make them believe. Sell it, sell it, sell it," Prochaska said.

"A good teacher is a good salesman," Houck said.

All this started back in 1966. When Allen was hired, he brought Prochaska with him. The pair had gotten to know each other when they shared the train to and from work. Allen was coaching with the Chicago Bears, Prochaska with the Chicago Cardinals.

With the Rams, Prochaska inherited a line that "wasn't the greatest in the world, but wasn't the worst."

Only one Ram interior lineman had been named to the Pro Bowl in the previous 10 years.

Prochaska set about selling some simple skills to his players and selling them over and over again.

"Talk, drill, work. Talk, drill, work," said Prochaska, 70, who is now retired and living in Westminister.

What they worked on was relatively simple, virtually the same things that Houck puts his players through today.

"Meat-and-potatoes techniques," Houck calls it.

Hit the guy in front of you; stay on him as long as you can; don't try to dominate a man with your size, do it with your agility, speed, smarts and tenacity.

It's for those reasons that Houck enjoys watching the likes of Tom Newberry, of whom he says: "If you want him to stop blocking you, you're going to have to get a gun."

Prochaska never believed practice was over just because it had ended. He regularly held two or three players after for extra work. Not only did he want to work on technique, he wanted to build bonds between his players.

Houck calls the line, "a team within a team," and Prochaska had a team with rather low self-esteem.

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