Quick, name the Jet who will have his hands on the football more than any of his teammates Sunday against the Chargers.
Don't fret too much if it took you a while to come up with the answer. Nick Mangold prefers it that way.
"The sign of a good center,'' he said, "is when you never hear your name called.''
No name-calling is a good rule of thumb for just about anyone, but for an offensive lineman, it's essential. Of all the thousands of professional athletes out there in search of wealth and glory, the men whose job it is to provide a quarterback enough time to get a pass off or clear a path for a running back are happiest when they toil in anonymity.
And admit it, you're fine with that, too. Most of us take for granted that the football will get safely into the hands of the quarterback or a tailback lined up in one of the various Wildcat formations that have become so popular the past couple of years. We don't spend much time thinking about how it gets there or what the guy who delivers it does afterward.
Face it, most of us think centering is a snap.
As far as anyone can recall, the networks never have put an isolated camera on a center, nor are they much in demand for postgame interviews. No play starts until the big guy slings, and yet - as long as all goes smoothly between the time an offense breaks the huddle and the ball is snapped - the center gets less attention from most fans than does the guy who tore their ticket in half or sold them a beer.
That is why when you ask Nick Mangold - a Pro Bowler in two of his four NFL seasons, All-Pro this year and the anchor of the Jets' outstanding offensive line - to lay out the yardsticks by which one measures a center's performance, he comes back at you with what sounds like the jacket description for a book titled "Centering for Dummies.''
"No fumbled snaps, no botched transfers, no false starts, no holding penalties,'' he said, ticking them off on his fingers. "There's not a lot there, but it's the life we live.''
Because Mangold is no dummy, you've got to attribute his oversimplification of a deceptively complex and demanding position to sheer modesty.
In that case, the only thing left to do is approach a coach, and there are few better at making complex positions almost indecipherably intricate than Bill Callahan, the Jets' cerebral guru of the grunts on the offensive line.
"Well, there's a lot of aspects that go into it, but I think foremost, it's really controlling the point of attack, and that's what he does so well,'' Callahan said. "In the NFL, it's so hard to block the offset nose tackle, and he gives us the ability to do it single-handedly, whereas most teams require a double-team. That's a definite edge for your running game, because now you can go to both sides of the line, you can go at the nose tackle or away from him, because Nick almost always wins that battle.''
Translation: The Jets expect Mangold to have no trouble handling 315-pound Ian Scott of the Chargers, who never even played much nose tackle until Week 6 as a stopgap after three-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Jamal Williams went on injured reserve with a triceps injury.
Then, of course, there is pass-blocking, in which the center is expected to help out one of the guards or clean up a mess someone left behind. Then there are his pre-snap responsibilities, when aside from looking down between his legs to pick up any indicator for a silent snap count, the center must identify the defense and communicate what he sees to the quarterback and his linemates.
"That's the one time the TV cameras are on me,'' Mangold said. "So I try to do a lot of pointing and shouting just to show my awareness of what's going on.''
Mangold is quite aware of what's going on, and of what went on before he got here as a first-round draft pick in 2006. He was the second offensive lineman the Jets selected in the first round that year - 25 spots below the No. 4 pick, D'Brickashaw Ferguson - when he replaced Kevin Mawae, a perennial All-Pro and one of the few centers fans had actually heard of.
"That actually made it a bit easier,'' Mangold said. "Jets fans were already aware of the center position because of Kevin, so it made it easier for me to become a household name.''
In his own household, at least, where his sister Holley - 5 pounds heavier than her brother at 310 - is working to become an Olympic weightlifter after becoming the first female non-kicker to play Division II high school football at Archbishop Alter High School in Kettering, Ohio.
Callahan says the thing that impresses him most about Mangold is his steadiness on the field.
"He never freaks out, he never loses his poise out there," Callahan said. "In the position he plays, he's required to be aware of a lot of things at the same time under intense pressure, and he does all of it with great composure.''
Because of the Jets' multiple offensive configurations, in which Brad Smith will take a half-dozen or more snaps a game out of the Wildcat, none of his teammates will touch the ball more often Sunday than Nick Mangold.
"I never realized that,'' he said. "I think I should demand some kind of performance bonus.''
But please, no name on the marquee. Being a center may not exactly be a thankless job, but it's certainly done best when it's a nameless one.
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