CHANDLER, Ariz. — Ohio State offensive tackle Taylor Decker is working out in what looks like a modified auto body shop.
It's the O-Line Performance Academy run by former Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley. Along with linemen such as Alex Boone, Bobby Massie and Chance Warmack, Decker is perfecting his craft through a series of unique drills designed to teach proper stance, movement and power for linemen.
Decker is doing that in hopes of taking advantage of his vast size (6'7", 310 lbs) and talent (he’s projected to go in the first round of the NFL draft). Decker sat down with Bleacher Report to talk about his preparations and other subjects.
Bleacher Report: So what brought you out here to train?
Taylor Decker: I knew about it because [Bentley] played at Ohio State and we wore the same number and one of my teammates from Ohio State [Corey Linsley] came here over the summer one year. Then I started seeing his stuff on social media and realized, yeah, he knows what he is talking about. So I was able to get his number and reached out to ask him questions about football stuff. It was like that, and I kind of asked him if there was any way I would be able to come out here and train with you guys. Luckily, I was able to.
B/R: So talk to me about the technical stuff that you have learned here.
TD: Just the subtle things, not things that you would think would make a big difference. How I was in my stance. He changed my stance up so I wasn’t so narrow in my stance and I didn’t have my toes pointed in so much so I can move laterally and redirect quickly, as opposed to what I was doing before. There were little footwork things. Like in college, I was stepping straightforward right at a guy, and [Bentley] explained it that you’re more powerful when you squat and lunge. You can’t lunge as much weight if you’re on one leg, so keep a good solid, base. On top of that, it was the diet and the supplements. I feel great, and obviously we’re going to be getting into more of the football stuff now that the combine is over.
B/R: You’re not going to be training for the 40-yard dash as much anymore.
TD: We didn’t even really do much of that. He told me that he would bring a guy in to teach you some stuff [about running the 40], but at the end of the day running a 40 is not going to get a lineman drafted.
B/R: Nope, it doesn’t.
TD: He wants to get us ready to play football. I’m about as fast as I’m ever going to be in the 40.
B/R: And you’re never going to run a 40 for time again in your life. About the farthest you’re ever going to run again in football in a competitive situation is about 20 yards.
TD: Yeah, and the way he explained it is that you can do great in the combine, but if you can’t play once you get there, what does that matter? I’m completely invested in that and excited about that because I know I’m already a better player having been here and I haven’t even strapped it up again yet.
B/R: You said something interesting about redirecting your body. I don’t scout, but in reading the scouting comments about you, one of the criticisms of you is that you don’t redirect your body very well.
TD: Right, against the inside rush because I would be up on my toe and my stance would be narrow and I was always super, super vertical in my sets in college. It’s kind of the way I had to play.
B/R: And you’re 6'7".
TD: Yeah, I would be out on an island a lot because we would call protections where I was out there by myself. So I would be super vertical, up on my toe and my stance would be too narrow. I could backpedal really well, but if I had to redirect, I had to reset my heel before I could redirect, and that would slow me down. I think my foot speed was OK, but it was the little subtle things about getting your foot in the ground and not being so narrow.
B/R: So you’re working to fix the criticisms of you so that you can be a long-term answer in this league.
TD: Absolutely. [Bentley] will have us do drills out there, and then we’ll come in and watch guys do it on film and critique it. So here’s a guy who is a damn good player and here’s a drill we did and here’s him doing it in a game against a Pro Bowler or somebody like that on defense and you see it work. Having all the veterans, those Pro Bowlers, around here, that’s what I want to be. I want to be a Pro Bowler. I have high standards for myself. I was fortunate to win the Rimington-Pace Award [as the top offensive lineman in the Big Ten]. The only other guys to win that at Ohio State were Orlando Pace, Korey Stringer and Bentley. I’m honored to be in that company. But I don’t just want to be a mediocre player. I would hate that. I love playing football. I have played football since I was in first grade. If I do something, I want to be good at it. I don’t want to just be a backup. I would hate that.
B/R: You want to take advantage of every ounce of your talent.
TD: Absolutely. I have gone down that rabbit hole trying to find out just how good I can be, not just be content making a living at it.
B/R: Being around veteran players is a different experience for a lot of college players making this jump because these are men. I know you all thought you were men in college, but this is a different level. This is much more serious now. Talk about that part of the experience.
TD: It’s different. An NFL locker room is different. No. 1, physically, they’re strong. Especially in the football drills, they know what they’re doing. For me coming in, it was shut my mouth. You can’t come into a place like this with a big ego because I haven’t done anything. I haven’t played one snap in the NFL. I’m not even on a team, so I just tried to learn as much as I could from these guys and put myself in a position where I can ask them questions and bounce different things off them, like about techniques. Or about the locker room or about how their offense does something in particular.
The other day we were talking about snap counts because I knew from high school to college that snap counts were different, so depending on how they do it in the league, it’s going to be different. So it’s little questions like that and make sure that I can have a good relationship with these guys because it’s a family here. It seems like everybody likes each other here, and I like everyone. I haven’t met one guy I didn’t like, and to have that kind of like-minded group of people around me, it’s awesome.
B/R: I noticed that D.J. Humphries showed up here for the first time. I noticed Bobby Massie and Bentley talking about how they had to work together to make sure that Humphries got the help he needs here. It’s almost as if there’s a sense of responsibility built here.
TD: Yeah, because you’re going to represent yourself, you’re going to represent your team, you’re going to have your own brand. Then there are guys who come out of here and there are things expected of them. Working out here at O-Line Performance, there are things expected of you. It’s a brand. You have to represent that and uphold that because the guys who were here before us worked their asses off. They worked really hard to become the players they are.
LeCharles has worked his ass off, and he has his family and he has football. He tells us all the time: "Football is all I do. You can never not ask me a question or bother me in any way because this is what I do and I want to help you guys get better." So there is a responsibility to uphold that, even though I haven’t taken a snap in the NFL on the field or anything like that.
B/R: Do you have a good story about working with Bentley so far?
TD: I would say two things. No. 1, obviously everything you do here is challenging and you’re working to become a better player, but it’s fun around here. He makes it fun. If you mess up or do something funny, there are going to be jokes.
B/R: OK, so you have to give me an example.
TD: It would be like with him. He’s still way stronger than everybody. I came in one day, and he wasn’t wearing sleeves and I started making jokes to him about him not wearing sleeves. We were supposed to do legs that day and then he said, "No, we’re going to start out with floor bench press." He didn’t warm up or anything and he hit 315 (pounds) like 15 times. His legs are crossed. He’s not even doing anything. The floor press is neutral, so he’s just lying on the floor and your elbows stop when they hit the ground. I think it’s harder than a regular bench press. There is no backward motion and you can’t bounce it off your chest or anything. You can’t pop your hips off the bench because you’re laying flat. He’ll do stuff like that to remind everybody he’s still got it.
B/R: So after he gets done popping the 315, does he get up and just give you a look?
TD: He’ll just start making jokes, so it’s like fun and still competitive at the same time. You want to make yourself better, but at the same time you’re competing against somebody and you want to be better than them. It’s just natural.
B/R: Obviously, everybody who pays attention to the draft is talking about Laremy Tunsil and Ronnie Stanley as being the top two offensive tackles in the draft. How much do you look at them and compare yourself to them?
TD: I see it as I’m off doing my own thing. Obviously, I’ve heard of them, but I haven’t seen them and I don’t know a ton about what they do, their film or anything like that. I’m focused on making myself better. What I have surrounding me here, the best group of people I can find. … I’m not worried about comparing myself to other people. I’m worried about maximizing myself, making myself better because I think it’s pointless to get caught up in what other people are doing.
B/R: You know the nature of the beast, though—this is a comparison business.
TD: Yes, absolutely. Teams are going to do that and look at that. But I have to worry about Taylor Decker. What does Taylor Decker need to do to get better at this or that and do whatever I can to present myself in the best light I can when it comes to speaking to teams or doing drills, basically showing off myself. At the end of the day, if I’m not worried about me, then other people are getting better.
B/R: Any odd questions at the combine?
TD: No, not really. I’ve been blessed to have an awesome family situation and never have any off-field issues. I see myself as a high-character leader, so I didn’t have any issues that way.
B/R: Did they ask you questions about your teammates at Ohio State?
TD: Yes, they would ask question like, "What’s an example of you being a leader? What about your teammate who did this or that?" I think, No. 1, those are questions for them to answer. I’m not going to speak for my teammates because they are trying to do this thing for themselves as well. At the same time, they would keep asking, "OK, how were you a leader? How did you represent your offensive line group the right way?" It was nothing odd. There were no questions that I wasn’t prepared for. But there were questions that hadn’t I not been prepared, it would have been, "Oh, whoa, I wasn’t expecting that."
B/R: Did they ask you about your tattoos?
TD: I wear long sleeves to every meeting, but yeah, they did. Because obviously with the tattoos, there’s some meaning. But I wear long sleeves so they would be all covered.
B/R: You did that intentionally?
TD: Yeah, because I know there are going to be questions about tattoos with Ohio State players.
B/R: I didn’t even think about it.
TD: Oh yeah, but they’ll also ask, "Is there some gang affiliation? Do they mean something to you?" For me, my tattoos are…my grandpa and both my brothers are military and they started getting military tattoos. Me, being younger, these are people I look up to. I want to be like them. That’s how I started. That’s how it began. I didn’t join a gang or anything. Like I said, I’m a high-character person. I don’t have off-field issues like that. I’m not worried about the questions, but having to speak about tattoos when I could be talking about football or my family or my background, I don’t want to have to do that. Obviously, I have tattoos and a lot of people knew about that because you walk on stage in compression shorts and they see them. But some of the teams don’t worry about that.
B/R: I ask because the tattoos usually tell a story about the person.
TD: Yeah, all mine have a meaning. I didn’t get one because I said, "Oh, that looks cool." There is something behind it, something about my family, something I have been through, even though I have been fortunate not to have been through a lot of turmoil.
B/R: You didn’t just go get the tribal tat.
TD: I can’t stand tribal tattoos.
B/R: Got a good Urban Meyer story?
TD: People don’t realize...him, along with most of our coaching staff, because I think he hired accordingly, they are just perfectionists in general. People see him in the media, and they see him being very engaging and answering honestly. He won’t give just a generic answer all the time. People don’t see the intense practice side of him, which we see. But probably my best story about him was the first time he called me. When he called, I ignored the call because I didn’t have his number saved in my phone. I listened to the voicemail and ran upstairs and said, "Mom, Urban Meyer just called me." She said, "Well, did you call him back?" I was like, "No, not yet. Should I call him back right now?" That’s my best story because you get the intensity of practice and there’s probably nothing from that that can be published.
B/R: So he’ll go on a good rant.
TD: Oh yeah, he’s super honest and blatantly honest. It’s not always what you want to hear, but it’s what you need to hear. I think that transparency has really lent itself to our program. You see 14 guys from our program at the combine. It’s because you know exactly where you stand and exactly what you need to do to get to where you want to be. It’s like how I said I want to maximize myself; he wants to maximize his players.
B/R: Somebody recently said about Alabama, and I think it sounds true of Ohio State, is that if you go to that program, you did it because you want to be coached.
TD: Exactly. I can’t remember how he worded it, but it was like, if you want to be comfortable and just coast through and be on the team more or less, don’t come here. If you come here, you’re going to get pushed and it’s going to be one of the hardest things in your life. But you’ll look back on it, and if you go into it with a positive mindset and try to improve, you’ll look back on it and be thankful for it.
I haven’t been around any other programs, but guys in their freshman year really, really struggle with it because it’s a culture shock. In high school, you don’t have to do much to get by, whereas at Ohio State, borderline perfection was expected of you even though football is an imperfect game.
B/R: Have you ever watched Fast Times at Ridgemont High with Sean Penn playing the Jeff Spicoli, stoner dude role?
B/R: I don’t mean this the wrong way, but the way Joey Bosa talks, it reminds me of that character. Am I way wrong on that?
TD: Oh yeah, he talks super nasally and super laid back, like, almost seems like he’s not worried about much. But then you watch him play and his motor is nonstop. I’ve had a lot of people say that to me, like the way he talks, they wouldn’t expect him to talk like that.
B/R: The way he presents himself does not match up with the way he plays.
TD: Definitely not.
B/R: Do you guys have fun with him, like, "Dude, what are you talking about?"
TD: I’m just used to it. That’s Joey to me. That’s the Joey I know. From the first day he was on campus, that’s how he was, so it wasn’t really weird to me. But I can see how people the first time hearing him or speaking to him will be like, "Wow, I didn’t expect that." But I don’t know what Joey would do if he wasn’t a football player. Like I look at Joey and I see a football player. But you see the type of football player he is on the field and it doesn’t matter how he talks.
B/R: You said you have a good family background. What do your folks do?
TD: My dad is an engineer. He was actually at West Point for two years, but he had to leave because he’s had a bunch of back surgeries. My mom works at the airport (just north of Dayton) since she was like 18 years old. She has worked there forever because she had my sisters when she was really young.
B/R: So what type of engineering does your dad do?
TD: His official title is that he’s an applications engineer, and his company will design gear systems and motor systems for heavy machinery. Like he is working on a couple of roller coasters and machinery to be in factories to build other things. A customer will contact him and say, "OK, this is what we need," and he’ll figure out what they have or what they need. He’s very smart, really smart.
B/R: Is that what you wanted to do?
TD: Me? No. I majored in animal sciences. Initially, I wanted to be a strength coach or something related to animals. I don’t want be a vet, more of a zoologist. I had strength coaches in college who didn’t have degrees in exercise science, so living that, being that, being in a college football program, I’ll know how to do that.
With the animal sciences, I had to do an internship to graduate. I had to work 200 hours in the Columbus Zoo to graduate. It was cool to have that experience because a lot of my coursework was production animals, beef, cattle, poultry. That’s fine, some people are interested in that, but I wanted another experience.
B/R: You’re probably the one guy who could feed the giraffe.
TD: We had a five-month-old tiger who you could go in the enclosure with and full-grown cheetahs that you could feed by hand. We had leopards.
B/R: Was Urban OK with that?
TD: He’s friends with Jack Hanna (the head of the Columbus Zoo). I was in his department, so I would see him every couple of days unless he was traveling. So that was awesome. It was cool.
Jason Cole covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.