The New York Jets have seen four starting quarterbacks since 2006, but only one left tackle. D’Brickahaw Ferguson enters his ninth year for Gang Green in the league’s most valued line position with three Pro Bowl appearances and 128 straight starts. The 2006 fourth-overall draft pick shares his insight on the evolution of pass protection, the defensive ends he respects most, and the elevation of the blindside tackle.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in pass protection?
You see these defensive ends that have so much range. Maybe because of the quarterbacks that are coming into the league — guys like Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and Robert Griffin III — they can throw and they can also run. As we see more of these types of quarterbacks, you’re going to have these hybrid ends with more attributes than in prior years.
What changes do these type of defensive ends force you to make?
As an offensive lineman, having spatial awareness is key, understanding where the quarterback is going to be and understanding what the defensive end might do depending on the play we’re running. It takes a little bit more mentally to figure out what I need to do to be most effective. The game is ever evolving. So you have to constantly pay attention to the change because you don’t want to be left behind.
Coming to the NFL, what was the toughest part of learning process?
The growing pains of going through a game not knowing what you don’t know and learning through your failures. Understanding the intentions of a play is so key, because you can block a guy into the running back if you don’t know how the play is supposed to work or where the back is going to come out.
I used to go against a Pittsburgh Steelers end. This guy had thirteen years to perfect his craft and I’m coming in brand new. Growing pains is going into a game not knowing what you don’t know.
Experience in this league is so important because there are some things that you can’t teach. You have to feel what it feels like to be in certain situations, and once you’re in those situations you’ve got to learn what it feels like to adapt.
How long does that take?
Maybe after my third or fourth year I started to understand the game better, but I really felt like my crowning moment was when I started going to the Pro Bowl [in 2009]. Then I knew that other people were seeing the things that I was doing as well.
Who’s moves are hardest to block?
Moves are very interesting, I think the misconception is you have to have a lot of moves to be really effective — good players know how to do one thing well and do variations on that. For a long time Jason Taylor would run up the field on you. If you overstep, with his technique, he had the option to go either way.
How would you block that?
It doesn’t make the job easier. [Laughs] You focus more on your technique, but spatial awareness is the key.
Who were the best defensive ends you had to block?
There were phenomenal defensive ends when I started like Jason Taylor — guys that were so dynamic off the line. Dwight Freeney was another. These guys have a presence. And you got guys who are more hybrid guys Mario Williams, he’s physically strong and gets down the field like someone half his size.
Other players I felt were very notable players, John Abraham and Julius Peppers, the guys were making so much noise. Now you hear new names: J.J. Watt, Von Miller. Every year the team names remain the same, but the players are constantly changing. It’s such a challenge.
Is it strange that the left tackle has become such a premiere position?
Definitely. Being an offensive lineman you always have the mindset of being an unsung hero – a lot of the people who look at the game follow the ball. Growing up I didn’t have the foresight to see that the left tackle was going to be the it position. I never realized how important it was until I got drafted. Then you get to the league and see guys like Jason Taylor, Dwight Freeney, and Mario Williams, and you realize someone’s got to stop them if you want a quarterback to play and be healthy.