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SUPERSIZED LINEMEN AREN'T PULLING THEIR WEIGHT

Maybe it came to me as we watched Terrell Suggs of the Baltimore Ravens motoring around Buffalo Bills right tackle Mike Williams like a jet-powered Harley. Or it could have been a couple of weeks earlier, when John Abraham of the New York Jets sprinted, as if he were Carl Lewis in his prime, around Williams.

This dawned on me: The NFL's sumo wrestlers are facing as bleak a future as the woolly mammoth in the ice age.

Pro football is now awash with athletic, speedy pass rushers who whiz by the oversized loads as if they were stop signs in rural Wyoming. Suggs is 6-foot-3 and weighs 260 pounds, more than 100 pounds lighter than Williams. Abraham weighs a few pounds less than Suggs.

Think of how many similar quarterback assassins abound in the league -- Jevon Kearse of Philadelphia, Dwight Freeney of Indianapolis, Mike Vrabel of New England, Jason Taylor of Miami, Tyler Brayton of Oakland, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila of Green Bay, Patrick Kerney of Atlanta, Mike Rucker of Carolina, Grant Wistrom of Seattle and the list goes on.

Jonathan Ogden of Baltimore, 6-9, 340, is supposed to be the best offensive tackle in the league, but the Bills have a premier pass rusher of their own, Aaron Schobel. In the first quarter of last week's game, Ogden couldn't find Schobel, much less block him.

It's the old cat-and-mouse game, but too many of the NFL cats are way too fat. It's one of the reasons you see so many games that have the look of a soccer match.

The defense is always ahead of the offense, so when the trend toward mastodon offensive linemen neared its peak, the smart coaches made fast, athletic pass rushers their priority.

As one who appreciates good line play, I miss seeing rugged but nimble O-linemen do a lot of trapping and pulling. Take the Green Bay Packers' power sweep of the Vince Lombardi era, with some combination of Fuzzy Thurston, Forrest Gregg or Jerry Kramer leading ball carriers such as Paul Hornung, Donnie Anderson or Jim Taylor around end.

In this part of the country a more beautiful sight was watching Bill Shaw, Stew Barber and the legendary Cookie Gilchrist rubbing out defenders in the red zone while Daryle Lamonica, a giant-sized quarterback for the AFL era, executed a keeper into the end zone.

The Bills have had some great offensive linemen through the years: Hall of Fame guards Shaw and Joe DeLamielleure, Kent Hull, Will Wolford, Jim Ritcher, Joe Devlin, the young Ruben Brown, Al Bemiller, Kenny Rice, the underappreciated John Fina, Reggie McKenzie, Howard Ballard, Dave Foley and others. Only a few, like Ballard, would have the size to thrive today.

"I'd have to be an H-back today," says DeLamielleure, speaking of the hybrid, part fullback-part tight end position. Shaw says that would be his job, also.

Is 21st century football a better game? Not in my view.

The mismatch between athlete and sumo wrestler nullifies too many of today's quarterbacks. That's why Drew Bledsoe, who seldom speaks a discouraging word, revealed some of his frustrations before the media Wednesday. Yes, his poor decisions have contributed heavily to his problems for the past year and a half, but all those jailbreaks that allow a mass mugging to descend upon him are the worst problem.

The Bills have too many linemen who aren't good enough. In some cases the talented ones aren't playing nearly well enough. I don't think Tom Donahoe devoted nearly enough attention in the last couple of years to fixing this line. Mike Williams, the No. 4 pick in the 2002 draft, is exhibit A. He was supposed to solve a lot of problems. He hasn't. Right now he looks like a flop.

Case in point: Remember all the hullabaloo after the close loss to the Oakland Raiders about an alleged bad call that denied the Bills their only rushing touchdown of this season? "The zebras stuck it to us," was the cry when it was ruled that Travis Henry didn't get into the end zone on a fourth-down try from the 1-yard line.

It would have been a moot point if there had been a surge from the right side of the Buffalo line, of which Williams is the central figure and right guard Chris Villarrial was the major addition this year.

When you can't even get a point-blank push from the sumo wrestlers, it's no wonder this team is a disaster in the red zone.
Larry Felser, former News columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.

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