Star-Bulletin Sports

Friday, September 10, 1999

P R O _ F O O T B A L L

Star-Bulletin file photo
Former St. Louis School star Olin Kreutz won a preseason
battle for the Chicago Bears' starting center position.

Kreutz Is Starter,
But He’s Not

The St. Louis School alumnus
wants to prove he deserves to be the
Chicago Bears' starting center

By Pat Bigold


OLIN Kreutz believes that life in the National Football League will get tougher now that he has achieved his boyhood dream.

"I've wanted to be an NFL starter for a long time, but now the pressure is on to prove why I am a starter," said the Chicago Bears' center in a phone interview this week.

"Every day, I have to go out there and prove it."

The Bears open at home against Kansas City on Sunday after a 2-2 exhibition season. With a new coaching staff headed by Dick Jauron, they hope to rebound from disappointing back-to-back 4-12 seasons.

Kreutz, drafted in the third round last year, got the starting nod from Jauron before the final exhibition game.

The battle between the 6-foot-2, 285-pound Kreutz and 6-3, 295-pound fourth-year veteran Casey Wiegmann was intense, with the two alternating starts in preseason.

But offensive line coach Bob Wylie said Kreutz's style of play reminded him of another NFL center with similar physical characteristics: five-time Pro Bowl selection Mark Stepnoski.

"That's a huge compliment but I got a lo-o-o-ong way to go," said Kreutz. "People tell me that, but I try not to listen to it."

Kreutz's experience as a state champion wrestler at St. Louis School helped him develop effective leverage on opposing linemen. Leverage is critical for a relatively light offensive lineman like Kreutz.

"I'm the lightest guy on my line now -- by far -- and I was the lightest guy on my line in college (Washington)," said Kreutz. "I was 269 when I got to Washington. The last time I was big for my line was at St. Louis."

Kreutz said he'd recommend wrestling to any young offensive lineman because the skills the sport teaches are transferrable.

"I'm never going to be heavier than anybody, so I have to be more athletic," he said.

At Kreutz's side are 6-4, 312-pound left tackle Blake Brockermeyer, 6-5, 308-pound left guard Todd Perry, 6-4, 310-pound right guard Chris Vilarrial and 6-7, 340-pound right tackle James O. Williams.

Jauron's one-back system with Curtis Enis suits Kreutz.

"It's basically what we used at Washington," said Kreutz. "It's the zone blocking system and it's more what I'm used to."

Sixth-year veteran Shane Matthews will start at quarterback over the Bears' top draft pick, Cade McNown. But Kreutz knows his future will be under McNown.

"Shane knows everything there is to know, but Cade has all the talent in the world and it will be his job soon -- if not this year, then next," said Kreutz.

"Cade is a confident guy and I think he'll get the job done."

The role of a center has been likened to that of a quarterback.

The center calls the all-important blocking assignments, and must always be ready to make split-second adjustments.

Wylie said it takes an intelligent athlete to do that.

"They've probably got the wrong guy then," said Kreutz, with a laugh.

"I have smart guys around me," he said. "A lot of times, I'll make the wrong call and they'll make the right call for me."

This weekend, Kreutz will face a combination of strength and speed in 6-4, 328-pound defensive lineman Chester McGlockton, a four-time Pro Bowl pick.

"This week it's McGlockton, next week it's Seattle's Cortez Kennedy (six straight Pro Bowls), and then it's Oakland's Russell Maryland (another Pro Bowler)," said Kreutz. "It's not like college where you face an All-American maybe once a year. Every week in the NFL, you face an All-American. The challenge is constant."

Kreutz said he's glad he doesn't have to face any Hawaii defensive linemen in this year's schedule. The closest he'll come to meeting on the field with a defender from the islands is when New Orleans comes to Soldier Field Oct. 3.

Former Pac-Five star Ink Aleaga, Kreutz's teammate at Washington, is a second-string linebacker for the Saints.

"But Ink's my friend," said Kreutz. "I'd rather not face him. I'd rather not face any Hawaii guy, but if you gotta, you gotta. I'd rather just cheer for them."

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