War of the Words: linemen sound off

By Courtney Linehan

Illinois’ offensive linemen and defensive linemen face off each week on the practice field. The two sides go at each other enough to have plenty of reason to build a bitter rivalry. The thing is, they’d rather take shots at each other in practice and just joke around about their fake feuds.

This week, the Daily Illini gave one member of each unit the chance to say why life is better on his side of the ball. Right tackle Jim LaBonte checks in for the offensive line. Defensive tackle Josh Norris steps in for the defensive line, denying his reputation as a big mouth and talking up his teammates’ intelligence.

We let the boys make their arguments. You decide who’s right.

Jim LaBonte says unity drives the offensive line:

For the offensive line, the important thing is teamwork. The offensive line is more important to the success of a football team because everyone needs to get their block, everyone needs to work together. The defensive line has responsibilities. But the O-line, if we’re all working together we can move the ball. That really gets the crowd going, when the ball is moving down the field, so a good O-line is going to do more for your team than a good D-line.

We have that necessary unity on our offensive line. There are five of us on the O-line, and five is obviously better than four. But more importantly, we all live in the same apartment complex, so we kind of had this team unity thing. The D-line, they live all over the place. We’re more of one group, we always stick together.

There are always wars between us and the D-line. Defensive tackle Chris Norwell is always trash talking, but we don’t do that as much; we’d rather do our trash talking on the field. Although left guard Martin O’Donnell says I’m always trash talking. The D-line likes to run their mouths; Josh Norris is always trash taking in the stance. The two D-ends are kind of quiet, but the tackles like to get after me, Chuck Myles and Akim Millington.

But the offensive line, we just try to get good blocks. We don’t want to run our mouths because we don’t want to be cocky. We want to show it on the field.

Josh Norris says it’s all about being “athletically smart”:

The defensive line is so important because we’re the anchor of the defense. The difficulty of our position, what makes it the most important position, is that we have to be effective in the run and the pass.

I think the defensive line is the most important position because it can be one of the most difficult jobs. You can buy a lot of fakes, you don’t see a lot of plays. You play based on what you sense, what you feel. You have to be athletically smart, know how to control your body, have your body respond to what your brain sees.

Jim LaBonte is known to talk. I came in as a walk-on, I tried to be a friendly guy in the beginning. I wish I had more bad things to say about the offensive line, that they’re bad guys or something. But they’re really not.

As far as rivalry goes, during this previous fall camp we learned we need to respect each other. We know each other well, we’re buddies, but we know how to play hard against each other.

The thing that makes us so important is that we have to win. On the offensive line, they just have to not lose. In order for us to be productive, we have to beat the man in front of us. They just have to keep us from being in the play. It could be me messing up or them pushing past, and they’ll win. But for me to win, I have to succeed, I have to play the play right. I have to beat them.