Another installment from my weekly column at 101ESPN. This week I interviewed Rams second year tight end turned full back Ben Guidugli.
What a difference a year makes
Exactly a year ago, I wrote about how the Rams defense needed to develop a focused identity. I specificially put James Laurinaitis on notice and said he needed to take charge in forging a strong Rams defense. (Laurinaitis stepped up to the challenge in 2011 by recording his best season with a combined 142 tackles and three sacks.)
It was also the 91st day of the NFL lockout. Lesser NFL players were taking other jobs to make ends meet, and free agents’ families were in limbo as everyone waited on NFL owners and the NFLPA to agree to a new collective bargaining agreement. On July 25, 2011, all the anxiety and frustration came to an end. Hallelujah!
But the one thing all 32 teams couldn’t get back was the valuable time lost. The 2011 rookie class didn’t have the luxury of OTAs (organized team activities), minicamps and weeks of absorbing the playbook. They basically got a crash course in the ways of the NFL, and for the Rams that wasn’t a good thing. Yeah, I’m trying to delete the 2-14 record from my memory.
It’s pronounced “guh-DOO-lee.”
I remember taking note of Ben Guidugli during a condensed training camp last summer. He was an undrafted free-agent tight end from Cincinnati who, on paper, didn’t seem to have a great shot at making the Rams’ final 53. He was competing for one of four tight end spots. The words “long shot” immediately darted into my head as the catchy pronunciation of his name stuck in my brain. (Say it with me now: The second “g” is silent, “guh-DOO-lee.”)
As each week passed, though, his name continued to pop onto the roster. His ability to play multiple positions and willingness to work hard paid off for this tight end. He beat out an incumbent Fendi Onobun, the Rams’ sixth-round draft pick from 2010, for that final position. Guidugli signed onto the practice squad, where he contributed to the Rams’ 2011 season.
Now get into your DeLorean and go back to the future. It’s now June 2012. The Rams have a new head coach in Jeff Fisher, a new offensive coordinator in Brian Schottenheimer and, most important, a new outlook on the future.
With the benefits of having a full slate of OTAs and minicamps, Guidugli is feeling more cozy – but at a new position. As of May 25, Guidugli was magically listed as a fullback. What, what, and what?
Of course I had to ask him about his transition from playing as a tight end to learning how to play as a full-time fullback.
“I came in last year for Josh McDaniels, the (offensive) coordinator, as more of a pass-catcher. Sometimes motion in the backfield, and also played some fullback. Coach Schottenheimer uses a more traditional fullback more, so that’s where I’m at now. I’m getting more comfortable with it every day, and I’m liking it more every day because I’m getting the play fast and I know what I’m doing. I’m just real excited about it.”
Guidugli is currently one of three fullbacks on the roster, along with veteran Brit Miller and rookie Todd Anderson from Michigan State. But under the previous McDaniels system, the Rams only carried one fullback: Miller. For what its worth, under Schottenheimer, the Jets carried one official fullback, John Conner, but they also had Josh Baker listed as a tight end/fullback on their final 2011 roster.
“OTA’s have been a big help. As far as the lifting and condition goes. And also being in shape and getting stronger,” said Guidugli when asked how different it’s been having a real offseason. “The playbook part of it, getting mental reps with the defense and just getting more comfortable with the offense, too. It will go far as for showing up for training camp knowing what you’re doing and being able to play fast. It’s been a big help with all that, for sure.”
From man-to-man to zone defense
It’s not what you think. Following Guidugli on Twitter (@Ben_Guidugli41), you couldn’t miss the fact his wife gave birth to their third child last week. Sweet little (8 lbs., 9 oz.; 21 inches) Beau Carlo would change the way the Guiduglis played defense at home.
I always talk about the changes of going from one-on-one (parent-child) to being outnumbered once you have that third child. Guidugli was thinking along the same lines. I thought going from two to three was difficult, but not for Ben and his wife.
“I’m not your normal 24-year-old. It’s actually easier now, being in the NFL, than when I had my first son when I was a sophomore in college. Full-time student and doing practice – that was actually a lot more than it is now. You’ve been through it before so it’s not too much. I love my family, so I’ll do whatever I’ve got to do.”
That blew my mind. Having three kids under the age of five was hard enough. I couldn’t imagine having three kids under the age of three. Guidugli already sounds like a pro.
“You know what to do and you don’t get too worked up when they cry. All that other stuff, changing diapers. You just get used to it. I enjoy helping out,” said Guidugli. Strangely enough, I truly believed him when he said that.
He continued, “Like I said, I love my kids. If I’m not here doing my job at football, that’s where I want to be – with them, spending time with them.” Now what wife wouldn’t want to hear those words, right? They’d be music to my ears.
Man, I love this game too much
As we were talking about family and children, the current topic of concussions and other injuries naturally surfaced. As you know, I am not keen on the prospect of my son playing tackle football. But that’s just one mother’s point of view. Guidugli has a different perspective as a father who is still currently playing the sport.
Naturally, I expected him to be a bit apprehensive. “A little bit,” said Guidugli when I asked if he was concerned about his future. “When you hear all the stories about how it can affect you later in life and you’re thinking, ‘I’ve got my kids and everything else.’ Especially since the position that I play is a high-impact position with a lot of collisions.”
Don’t ask me how or why, but I knew his “but” was coming. I could just tell from the way his eyes lit up just before he spoke these words.
“But I love this game. I love the opportunity it gives, and you can make a living off it. So I’m not one to complain about it and say that I’m not going to play or I don’t want my kids to play, or nothing like that. I think you learn a lot of skills in football that you can use off the field, too. Like teamwork, hard work and discipline. I wouldn’t discourage my kid from playing football.”
This was probably my favorite part of our chat because it encapsulated Guidugli as a football player. It solidifies why I want to see him succeed. “I thought about it for a little bit, but after about 10 minutes I’m like, ‘Man, I love this game too much.’ Watching film, lifting weights, all of it. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.”
For every diva wide receiver in the NFL, I’d like to think there are at least twice as many Guiduglis who just play for the love of the game.
How can you not like this kid?