It takes a particular type of person to play on an NFL offensive line for many reasons. They do the dirty, unappreciated work for the most popular position in America — and do the most consistently, physical part of an already violent sport.
The individuals who make up the five spots have to accept their thankless role. It requires a different type of focus and grit in each game. The Kansas City Chiefs have seen it with starting players like right guard Trey Smith battling through injury — and actually missing one game dealing with a lingering ankle issue.
On Wednesday, Smith explained the thought process behind an NFL offensive lineman when he spoke with reporters.
“It’s just the worker’s mentality,” Smith described. “It doesn’t matter how you feel, what state you’re in, just get the job done, whatever it takes and whatever it means. Ultimately, that’s how I try to play the game: no matter what happens, play hard for my teammates, play hard for my brothers beside me... you play with that mentality, I think positive things are going to come out of it.”
Smith’s mentality is part of what made him a solid starter right away — but it’s also what made it possible for him to continue his football career after a health scare in 2018. He missed the final five games of the season when team doctors discovered blood clots in his lungs.
“For me, it was a life-changing event,” Smith reflected. “Anytime you have something that threatens your health and overall well being, it’s different. To experience that at a young age, it changed me a lot. Being able to represent that and bring awareness to the cause — even potentially save lives — I’m ecstatic, I’m stoked that I have the opportunity to give it a platform.”
Four years after his scare, Smith is in a position to promote awareness and prevention of the frightening thing he went through as a college sophomore. He uses the NFL’s “My Cause My Cleats” campaign to spread awareness for the National Blood Clot Alliance.
Not everyone gets as fortunate as Smith did — being able to fully recover and continue on with his normal life completely; there were no guarantees there.
“It was hard not knowing if I was going to be able to play anymore,” Smith remembered. “To be in the position I’m in today, it’s nothing short of amazing. I’m really thankful to be in the position I’m in, there has been resiliency throughout my whole situation; things did not go right for a long time for me. Ultimately, keeping the faith and keeping the positive mentality, keeping a workman’s mentality, keeping my head down... I’m thankful I did that, instead of choosing a different route and quitting, and sort of feeling bad for myself.”
He recovered to play two more stellar seasons at the University of Tennessee, then jumped into the Chiefs’ starting right-guard position from his first training camp on. He has missed only one start in the 31 games Kansas City has played since he was drafted, even though his history on the injury report isn’t clean.
“It’s just an [offensive line] mentality,” Smith reiterated. “We have a job we have to do: we have to move guys up front, and have to put players that get more recognition than us a lot of the time, get more of the acclaim. Ultimately, we make things go. It’s a sense of pride that I’m not going to let my team down, I’m not going to let my brothers down, I’m not feeling 100% — but I’m going to go out here and give it my all on this field.”
“Seeing a guy like Joe Thuney, that’s the definition of toughness for me. It doesn’t matter how Joe feels, he’s going to try and go out there and get the job done. For me, seeing his leadership, it speaks volumes to how he plays. He set the standard, going out there even when you don’t feel like it.”
Entering this season, Thuney had never missed a start in his NFL career. He has tallied up two absences this year, but that long-term durability is what both Smith and fans want for the team’s right guard for the foreseeable future.
When adversity hits, physical durability is essential — but so is the mental toughness to overcome a potentially career-derailing health issue and not allow it to stop him from achieving his goals.