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Pat Bigold

The Way I See It

By Pat Bigold

Tuesday, June 13, 2000

Kreutz an impact player

IT was Olin Kreutz's birthday Friday. He turned 23. Another year older, wiser ... and probably more dangerous.

It's Kreutz's danger potential that has charmed the Chicago Bears coaching staff and Chicago fans.

He's their John Shaft at center. He may take you down, but he'll never let you down.

The 6-foot-2, 295-pound barrel of dynamite drafted in the third round three years ago appears to be on the verge of a breakthrough season.

He started all 16 games for the Bears in 1999 and received votes for the Pro Bowl.

And he's growing with a team that's threatening to make a bigger impact in the NFL Central this coming season.

"We're a lot faster with a lot better athletes on the field since I've been here," Kreutz said in phone interview from Chicago yesterday.

Linemates? "All the same guys starting," Kreutz said.

Todd Perry and Chris Villarrial are back at the guards and Blake Brockermeyer and James O. Williams return at the tackles.

He said it's a lot more comfortable combination than last season and second-year quarterback Cade McNown has shown marked improvement in minicamps.

The defense also has improved with moves like the drafting of speedy corner Reggie Austin and the trade for the 49ers' R.W. McQuarters.

But Kreutz is ultimately the fulcrum upon which the Bears' offensive fate rests.

"He got my vote for Pro Bowl," said Tampa Bay's Warren Sapp during a Pro Bowl practice here in February. "He's tough as nails and I knew I had to buckle up and bring my 'A' game because he's a fine, fine player."

Sapp said that other than Jeff Christy of the Vikings and Tony Mayberry of the Buccaneers, Kreutz was the best.

His development has been likened by others to that of Mark Stepnoski and Jay Hilgenberg.

WHAT does he want to improve on?

"I have to work on my shotgun snaps," Kreutz said. "For a while last year I was having one bad one a game. When you got a guy like (Detroit's 6-5, 305-pound) Luther Elliss lining up about an inch off of you, you have to snap the ball back and get your hand up as quick as possible to block him.

"Sometimes I get my hand up too fast and the ball sails over the quarterback's head."

Steve Young's official retirement yesterday after repeated concussions caught Kreutz's interest as a man who protects a quarterback.

"You just try to protect the guy (Young) but he was going to get hit, especially the way he played, always out of the pocket," Kreutz said. "Cade will run around and take some hits, hopefully he doesn't get hit in the right place."

So, what's the abuse like for a center?

"You get hit with everything. You get hit on every part of your body. Sometimes I wake up with bruises on the backs of my calves and I don't know how the hell they got there. But you don't take the full-speed hits in the open field (like a quarterback)."

Kreutz said he'll be home in about 10 days. Continuing a tradition, he'll work out on weights at his grandfather's house and jog at the UH track with longtime buddy, Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala (Pittsburgh Steelers running back).

"I'll leave Hawaii for camp on July 14," he said.

Asked if his visibility has increased in Chicago along with his promise, Kreutz seemed to shrug. "Nah, I don't stick out."

Pat Bigold has covered sports for daily newspapers
in Hawaii and Massachusetts since 1978.

E-mail to Sports Editor

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