I had the honor to catch up with Saints’ Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs as he’s promoting his softball game on May 15th in Metairie at Zephyr Field. The game is partnering with the Ben Grubbs #66 Foundation which supports children in single parent homes. Below we discussed his career, the Saints’ offensive line, the changes to the personnel up front and what the Darren Sproles trade means for the Saints offense. Proceeds from the softball event will benefit the non-profit Ben Grubbs #66 Foundation, which supports local Boys and Girls Clubs. For more information, visit www.bengrubbs66.com.
Click HERE to listen to the audio of the interview in full or you can make the jump and read the transcribed version below. I hope you enjoy, and many thanks to Ben for taking the time. No surprise he was very generous with his time and I can see why he fits perfectly in the high character Saints locker room.
(on what he’s up to in the offseason)
Right now I’m in New Orleans. I had surgery about six weeks ago on my left ankle, I had some bone spurs removed. So I’ve been here doing rehab and plus my family is here, my girls are in school so I think we’re saving vacation time until early July.
(on enjoying the NOLA weather vs. Baltimore)
It didn’t snow in St. Rose where I’m at. But I think it snowed in Baton Rouge a couple months ago! It’s usually hot here. It’s been fairly could though, in fact I had to turn the heater on this morning believe it or not!
(on his career playing so many positions before he settled on guard in college)
Well I would say there’s a lot of offensive linemen that didn’t go the path that I went that ARE athletic. But speaking for myself, it makes me more athletic because I have played other positions. You know I was smaller at one time I weighed 248 pounds in high school. As I continued to get bigger I like to think I still kept some of my quickness and athletic ability. So my mindset and confidence in my quickness/agility wise I feel like I still have it and it definitely benefits me on the football field.
(on the o-line peaking in the playoffs and the continuity into 2014)
When you see a lot of great offensive lines, you usually see the continuity because they have to gel. You have to practice, you have to know one another – the center, guards and tackles all have to be on one accord. Like you said towards the end of the season we kind of got there. We started off slow and we had a change in our starting lineup when Charles Brown was benched and Terron Armstead filled his spot. We were kind of slow that first game when we played the Carolina Panthers. Terron was off track a little bit. But the next game and the rest of the games that season we caught on. I think going into this coming season we can kind of pick up where we left off. It’s definitely a good feeling when you can go into the start of the season knowing who you’re going to be lining up next to, knowing the way they play, knowing the ins and outs of that person and I think that’s going to be the plus with us. Hopefully we can make improvements to become that great offensive line in the NFL.
(on if the loss of Jermon Bushrod or Aaron Kromer was more impactful)
I think they both were a huge blow to the offensive line. Coach Kromer was a terrific coach and Jermon, you know, a Pro Bowl tackle. My first year here [Bushrod] was a huge reason why I knew what I was doing because he was telling me what to do in a lot of situations that I really wasn’t familiar with! He knew the offense inside and out and he was a great player to play next to. So just losing him and trying to get used to Charles Brown was a transition. But it’s not an unusual transition in the NFL in that every year something is going to change. It’s unfortunate but that’s the way of the business and that’s the way of the game, you just roll with it. I like to think we did a pretty good job. Charles Brown did the best that he could do when he filled in and we won a lot of games with him. Coach Bret Ingalls was a running backs coach years prior so it was a smooth transition when he moved to the offensive line. He knew the blocking schemes, he knew the path of the backs which is really important because when you look at the offensive line you may see some mistakes in the run game/passing game but you have to know the offense to know where the breakdown was. Some people may think it’s the offensive line where it may be the back’s path, or vice versa. We all have to work on one accord and Bret having had to coach both positions was an advantage and a huge plus for us.
(on how important it is to get Brian de la Puente back)
It would be great if we can get Brian back. Brian was a great center, he finished top 3 in the NFL. So when you’ve got a player like that, we’ll probably look at him. But you know, I really don’t know what’s going on with that situation. I haven’t even spoken with Brian in a couple of weeks. It would be great if we can get him back. Brian is a smart smart smart offensive lineman and when you’re playing the center position you’re somewhat like a quarterback of the offensive line. There were a lot of times where he would have to get us straightened out. A lot of times Drew would also depend on Brian. Brian was a big asset for us and I wish him the best of luck no matter where he’s at. I would definitely love to have him back but because of how the business goes there’s a lot of uncertainty with that. You just have to play it by ear and play it day to day.
(on if the guard position is more important to the Saints’ offense than the tackle position)
I don’t know, I mean, I think if you were to ask Drew he would say all five positions are important. I don’t know that I would pinpoint one position being more important than another. Only because I know the value of every guy we have on the offensive line. The value is high and we each have a responsibility. That is to keep Drew Brees clean and open holes for the running backs. You can’t have one without the other. I know that’s been the history here, the guards have been the highest paid, but left tackle is just as important as the right tackle position. The guards are important as well. Are we more important because Drew is not as tell and he needs to step up in the pocket? You could maybe say that it fits for this offensive scheme. But i’d like to say that we’re all equally valued on this offensive line.
(on how much it means to make the Pro Bowl with two different teams)
The work I put in each year definitely takes a lot of dedication and commitment. I pride myself on not only outworking my opponents, the man across from me, but also the other guards in the league. In order to separate yourself you have to make that commitment of trying to be the best in the league. That’s one of my goals each and every year. Of course going to the Super Bowl is first on my list. But in order to get there my team needs for me to play my best game. That’s the approach I take to the game. Being recognized as a pro bowler on two different teams is a blessing and I’m fortunate to play on such good teams. There’s a lot of players out there who have the potential but the team may not be good as some of the others, so the recognition is not there. I’m blessed to have had played on two great teams. A lot of great players offensively and defensively (around me). I’m able to learn a lot. Even though I wasn’t on the defensive side with Ray Lewis, he taught me a lot. He taught me about my first step. He was very critical in how he approached the game and the things I learned from him. It definitely means a lot to be around great players because they elevate your play as well.
(on the softball game coming up)
It’s May the 15th. 6 o’clock is the home run derby. Following that will be the game. This is my second year doing it in New Orleans, I started it in Baltimore. I did it up there for two years and it was a huge success. I raised a lot of money for the boys and girls club up there. Coming here I wanted to continue but I knew Heath Evans did it. So I started to think about what else I could do and then he reached out and said “hey man you can have my event I’d be happy to pass the torch to you”. So I took the torch and I try to continue to have a good event just like he did. We’re excited, this is something the fans can get involved in and hopefully they continue to support it. It’s going to be a good event for all ages, whether you’re a kid or a grown up. You’ll get a chance to see the players for the first time during the offseason.
(on why his foundation focused on single parent kids)
I wanted to do something that meant a lot to me, something that I can connect with. My foundation supports single parent homes. I grew up in a single parent home, my dad died when I was five. So I can relate to that and I know that a lot of kids are growing up in single family homes. You look at the stats and they’re not really in favor of us. I’m just here to tell you and the kids that you don’t have to be a product of your environment. The reason I “made it” is I had someone grab my hand and show me the way, kind mentor me and disciple me. So I’m just trying to give back and let them know that even though I am in the NFL there’s still someone that cares about you. I think it means a lot to them when I see their faces here in west New Orleans. Walking through the doors their eyes and face light up. They smile just to know someone cares about them because a lot of kids don’t get that in their homes. I’m just glad I get to reach a hand out and be a helping hand and pull some kids out of their environment as well.
(on if the team will focus on running the ball now that Darren Sproles was traded)
You know I really haven’t thought about it, yeah, that’s a good question. First, Darren was my guy. He was a great guy on the field and off the field. He was one of a kind for what he brought to our offense. We still have a lot of great backs in our offense and I would like to think we will continue to commit to the run. I do believe the running game is always a complement to the passing and you really can’t have one without the other. I would like to think we will commit more to it. But you know Coach Payton, who is a mastermind and a genius, I’m sure he has a lot of things up his sleeve. Just looking forward to getting back in the office and figuring those things out with him.