MU center ready to lead again

Sunday, March 19, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:28 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 14, 2008

Adam Spieker likes to frequent buffets that serve pizza and Chinese food with other members of the offensive line. But, the 6-foot-2, 310-pound center has decided to watch what he eats.

“I try to cut down on that now,” Spieker said. “I got a little heavy there for a while, so I’m trying to cut down on the buffets. We (still) go sometimes.”

The line occasionally gets a reaction from the people eating at the buffets.

“Some people talk to us,” Spieker said. “They’re like, ‘I’m glad I got here early.’”

At the first scrimmage of the spring season on Saturday, Spieker trotted up to the line and squatted down. He was scanning the defense. Then he put his right hand down on the ball, rested his left on his leg, and looked back through his legs at quarterback Brandon Coleman. His head snapped back up, alert to any defensive changes, and then he snapped the ball.

The sound of plastic shoulder pads and helmets colliding was heard up and down the line of scrimmage. A defensive tackle was in his face immediately, pushing and trying to get to Coleman. Spieker was straining, pushing back and then, seconds later, his goal was accomplished when Coleman threw the ball without being hit.

Spieker, a redshirt junior who has started 23-straight games, leads an offensive line that returns starters Joel Clinger, Mike Cook and Tyler Luellen, who has an ACL tear. As the center, Spieker is responsible for making calls and keeping the linemen on the same page. The offense averaged over 200 yards rushing per game last season, but with the departure of mobile quarterback Brad Smith, Spieker may end up doing more blocking for a quarterback in the pocket.

Offensive linemen frequently get less attention than positions like quarterbacks and running backs, but this does not lessen the impact that centers, guards and tackles have on a game.

MU coach Gary Pinkel said, “For offensive linemen, the truth be known, and it’s very unfortunate, when offensive linemans’ names come up, that means they didn’t play well. When they’re blocking their guy all the time, you don’t hear about them. (But) as soon as they give up a sack, then you hear their names... they don’t do it for any personal glory, they just love to play football, and that’s what makes them unique.”

Even though offensive linemen don’t rack up personal statistics, Pinkel said center is a crucial position in football.

“He’s like the captain of the offensive line,” Pinkel said. “They have to make all of the calls and do all of the other things. They have to snap the ball every time and also handle all of the pressure and adjustments. It’s a very difficult position.”

In the Tigers’ spread offense, when Spieker walks up to the line, he makes a “front” call. The offensive line sees how many defensive linemen are down and how many linebackers are up. Then, the linemen make other calls, such as the slide call, which is used to move protection from left to right or vice versa, based on potential blitzers and positioning of the defense. On different plays, different players make the calls. Although not a vocal player, Spieker said he speaks up when he is communicating with his teammates.

But he said one of the difficult parts of playing center is the shotgun formation the Tigers favor. At the scrimmage, the Tigers ran nearly every play from the shotgun. Although he doesn’t find getting into position after snapping the ball to be hard, he said that getting the ball to his quarterback can be.

“It’s hard just making sure it gets in the right spot at the right time,” Spieker said. “If it’s off a little bit, it can screw up the whole play.”

Spieker said he has gotten used to it because he has done shotgun snaps so often.

Most of his snaps have gone into the hands of Smith. Spieker, an All-Big 12 Conference Honorable Mention last season, said his blocking won’t change with a different quarterback, even if the next quarterback turns out to be less of a runner than Smith, who rushed for 4,289 yards in his career. In fact, Pinkel’s game plan is to distribute the ball more evenly throughout his team this season. If that concept translates into more running plays, Spieker will get more chances to get out and block defenders. He likes both run and pass blocking, but he likes the physical aspect of run blocking the most.

“He’s all business... he’s very accountable,” Pinkel said. “I think he loves playing football, too, and obviously he’s got a lot of ability.”

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