By Tom Luicci
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (Aug. 15, 2014) – Mitch Browning has noticed the malady afflicting big men throughout his 34 years as a college coach, most of it spent dealing with offensive linemen.
Rutgers’ first-year offensive line coach calls it “big man’s disease.”
“Too many big kids grow up hearing all their lives `pick on somebody your own size, don’t pick on little guys,’ ” Browning said. “They’re brainwashed into being nice guys.
“We don’t want nice guys on the offensive line.”
Case in point: Massive fourth-year junior Keith Lumpkin, who enters his second season as the Scarlet Knights’ starting left tackle. He’s a genuinely nice guy off the field – thoughtful, caring and soft-spoken. But the 6-8, 310-pounder is working to be anything but that in games.
(Some helpful advice: Never refer to him as a gentle giant. It tends to get under his skin.)
“I want people to look at me and say `wow, he’s a really violent player now,’ ” Lumpkin said when asked the one area of his game he is working on the most. “A lot of times when I was growing up people would say `yeah, he’s big, but he needs to get more aggressive and meaner.’
“This year I want to show my aggressive side and show I can be a very violent player.”
In this context, being violent is a good thing, a trait offensive linemen need.
“There’s only so much a person can take on the field,” Lumpkin said.
Browning’s task is instilling it in players like Lumpkin, who may not be predisposed to being mean or violent – but need to be on the field. It’s football, after all.
“It’s not something accomplished overnight,” Browning said. “The main thing is he’s taking responsibility. He’s focused on it and he has gotten better at it. It’s a challenge with some big men, but the goal is to teach them how to be violent from the snap to the whistle. He understands that.”
Lumpkin calls himself “a calm person,” but says he “hates all the gentle giant stuff.”
“That’s the worst thing a person can say to me,” he said. “I’m a good person. But we’re talking about on the field, playing in games. There has to be two sides of you as a football player, one on the field and one off it.
“That’s what I’m working on.”
Fellow lineman Chris Muller, Rutgers’ starting right guard, says he went through the same challenge that Lumpkin is facing about changing his on-field persona.
“It’s hard for bigger guys when they’re told their whole life they have to act and behave a certain way because they’re bigger than everyone else,” Muller said. “Then you get to college and everyone is big and you find out you can’t be a nice guy on the field if you want to be a good player.”
Lumpkin now has a foundation in for being Rutgers’ next top offensive lineman, starting all 13 games last year after appearing in just three in 2012. The former standout at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, N.J., was solid throughout the season – proving early on that he could handle the position. That allowed head coach Kyle Flood to feel comfortable about moving incumbent left tackle starter Kaleb Johnson to left guard last year.
Lumpkin and Johnson will be side-by-side for a second straight year this fall.
“I believe I did a good job last year,” Lumpkin said. “I didn’t give up too many sacks. That’s a big thing for a first-year offensive lineman. They usually give up a lot of sacks. I didn’t do too badly in that category.
“I just wasn’t consistent and efficient enough in the run game, which is what I want to improve upon. I think I have taken strides in getting better and staying low – a key thing for offensive lineman – due to coach Browning. Hopefully people see the improvement in every area of my game this season.”