I’ve told this story before, but it concerns when Paul Brown was awarded the Cincinnati Bengals franchise and had the second pick in the 1968 NFL draft. He passed up some skill-position players who turned out to be Pro Bowl and All-Pro players, and instead took center Bob Johnson of Tennessee.
I was friendly with Brown and in those days the draft was nothing like it is today, I said to Brown, “You’re out of your mind, — why wouldn’t you take somebody like Claude Humphrey or Larry Csonka?” a defensive end and a running back who turned out to be Hall of Famers.
Brown’s answer was, “You can’t win without a good center who can block, and call the assignments. He’ll play 15 years for me.”
And that was true, Johnson played 12 years for the Bengals and remains the only player in franchise history to have his number retired.
That year the Vikings had the No. 1 pick from the Giants as a result of the Fran Tarkenton trade and they took Ron Yary, another Hall of Famer who turned out to be one of the great offensive tackles of all-time.
The reason I bring up that story is that the Gophers have discovered a freshman center who made a big difference in the Gophers rushing for 326 yards against Purdue compared to just 74 yards the week before against Northwestern.
That center is Tyler Moore, a native of the Houston area who hadn’t played a snap for the Gophers this season before last Saturday. Quarterback Mitch Leidner and offensive coach Matt Limegrover gave him lot of credit for the difference in how they moved the ball.
Moore was coached last season at North Shore High School by Ben Wilkerson, who played at LSU and in 2004 earned the Rimington Trophy as the best center in the nation and is now an assistant offensive line coach with the Chicago Bears.
You have to give credit to Kill and his staff for being able to get a player like Moore out of Texas and running backs like Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith out of Georgia, two heavily recruited states.
Moore initially was slated to play right guard with the Gophers but moved to center during fall practice. He said Wilkerson’s coaching, along with Limegrover, had him ready for his first game.
“I was a little hesitant at first because I didn’t know how I was going to block those big guys with the ball in between my feet,” he said. “But coach Limegrover coached me up really good, and I had a really good coach in high school in Wilkerson. He gave me a lot of pointers and definitely the stuff that I’ve been taught has really helped me out to this point.”
Moore said Wilkerson gave him a lot of knowledge about the position.
“Oh yeah he did, little tricks of the trade that he gave me and that helped me a lot,” Moore said.
At 6-4, 315 pounds, Moore was ranked as one of the best centers in the nation coming out of high school, and he was recruited by Texas, Oklahoma, Oregon State and TCU among others, so how did he end up with the Gophers?
“Well, I’m from Houston, Texas, and I decided that coach [Jerry] Kill was a really great guy and saw coach Limegrover and the passion he had for the game,” Moore said. “I fell in love with Minnesota and I fell in love with Minneapolis.”
Speaking of center, the Vikings, even though Joe Berger is doing a good job at the position, are going to see some difference in the running game when they get John Sullivan back in about three weeks.
Freshmen center rare
Limegrover was pleased with Moore’s play and was especially impressed to see a freshman step into what is generally considered the most difficult offensive line position.
“He did a great job, and the No. 1 thing I was happy for was with a freshman center is that he got all of his snap backs and we didn’t have any exchange issues or snap issues,” Limegrover said. “That’s always the first thing you check off the list with the center, but beyond that thought he did a real nice job and looked very comfortable in there.”
Limegrover was asked if freshman generally start at center, the most recent in Gophers history was Greg Eslinger, a four-year starter, All-America and Outland Trophy winner.
“Normally freshman o-linemen don’t play, but centers especially,” Limegrover said. “You know what? He’s a kid that I think coming in early really helped him, and helped his development. He’s kind of like a freshman-plus because he had that extra semester of spring ball to help him get used to everything.”
• When the Chiefs face the Vikings on Sunday, they will be without running back Jamaal Charles, their best offensive player, who tore his ACL last week. How important is Charles to Kansas City? After he was injured last week they were outscored 15-0 and outgained 220-52 yards.
The Chiefs were up 17-3 against the Bears last week before Chicago scored the final 15 points to win 18-17.
• Mike Rallis, the former Gophers linebacker, is still wrestling for the WWE NXT, but is now working under the name Riddick Moss.
• Seven Gophers who started the opener against TCU have missed at least one game since then. They are Brian Bobek (one game), Briean Boddy-Calhoun (two games), Jon Christenson (three games), Gaelin Elmore (one game), Ben Lauer (three games), Brandon Lingen (one game) and Damarius Travis (five games).
• There is a very good chance that Louisville, coached by Rick Pitino, will bring his team to Williams Arena next season for a nonconference game against his son Richard and the Gophers.
• Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher was asked what he thought of former former Gophers star Mike Reilly, now with the Wild’s Iowa farm club. “He scored the only goal for Iowa in their opener, a 4-1 loss. So he got off to a good start,” Fletcher said. “He scored a power-play goal. But he’s a young guy, had really finished strong in training camp, but at this time the most important thing is just getting ice time and getting reps. He plays power play, he kills penalties, he gets to play in every situation in Iowa and for a young guy that’s really important.
“We’ll see him, maybe even very soon, but we’ll see him in Minnesota this year and the hope is he can get that experience in Iowa and come back a little more polished and ready to go.”
• A lot of local coaches believe that Tyler Johnson, the Minneapolis North all-around athlete who committed to Minnesota for football is a better basketball player than football. Maybe Johnson can play both like Tony Dungy did a long time ago.
• Hall of Famer and former Vikings defensive lineman Alan Page is going to be featured in a documentary on the NFL Network called “Alan Page: A Football Life” and it will premier on Friday at 8 p.m.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. email@example.com