Todd Herremans’ voice barely rose above a whisper. In the wake of a 26-16 loss to his old coach, on a night where the veteran struggled badly, Herremans stood in front of his locker — the hood of his sweatshirt pulled tightly around his face — answering reporters’ question in a low, pain-filled voice.
“I was just disappointed,” said Herremans, now a few days removed from the Chiefs’ loss. “It was a win I really wanted to get. I was really frustrated by that holding call I had late. Just disappointed, you know?”
Herremans took it hard but seemed no worse for wear this week. He wore the same half-grin that he always does. Was accepting towards the media that approached his back-corner stall, even though he knew the questions would be largely about what is going wrong.
"It's not like I don't know that I've got to get better," he said. "I know I've got to get better."
The most recent outing against the Chiefs was without a doubt his worst of the season. He had his share of issues in pass protection and was charged with five quarterback hurries, per Pro Football Focus.
The sentiment that it has been all bad for Herremans in 2013, though, doesn't hold water. Turns out, he was actually the top-graded lineman by the coaches against Washington in Week 1. Overall, he has been very strong in the running game. Says he is the best he's ever been in that area. Jason Kelce agrees.
"He has been outstanding in the run game," said Kelce.
"This notion that he is playing really poorly I think is actually wrong in my opinion. I think the last game he played a little sub-par and maybe one preseason game, but other than that he has played at a very high level, especially in the run game."
The preseason game Kelce is referring to was the third one in Jacksonville. Herremans, battling knee inflammation, had a down night.
Certainly, health is on the minds of many when it comes to the 30-year-old, especially considering that he is coming off a severe foot injury. He dislocated a bone in his right foot and suffered tendon tears and multiple fractures in the area against the Saints back in November. Herremans was forthcoming about the effect that injury has had on him in a conversation with Birds 24/7.
"I would say that it probably didn't allow me to train how I wanted to because I was busy rehabbing it," said Herremans. "I definitely lost some power on that leg. I'm still in the process of getting that back. But I don't notice it anymore when I'm stepping or pushing off of it or bearing down or anything.
"I wear orthotics now in both feet, where before I just wore it in my left one because I had that stress fracture a while ago. One of them absorbs contact so that it takes pounding off the stress fracture, and the other one, it's just got a higher arch so that it can kind of keep my bones in place. When I had that injury my arch kind of collapsed. You take one of those bones out and everything else kind of just crumbles. It was a dislocated bone but there was a lot of things that went on."
The miles are piling up for the nine-year veteran. He and Trent Cole are the longest-tenured players on the team. His fellow offensive linemen have some nicknames for him. Kelce refers to him as 'Old Bull.'
"You know why we call him the old bull?" Kelce asked with a wide smile. "There was a strength coach of mine in college that told us a story: There's a young bull and an old bull on the top of the hill. And there's a bunch of cows on the bottom of this hill. The young bull turns to the old bull and says, 'Let's run down there and [have relations with] one of those cows.' And the old bull says, 'Ah, let's walk down and [have relations with] them all.' Ever since that story, we call Todd Old Bull now."
If there is a young bull of the group, it's definitely the man to Herremans' right, Lane Johnson. The rookie, though, prefers to call Herremans something else entirely.
"I always joke, always say that he's kind of the older dog, kinda like an old lab: can't quite get in the truck, just a loyal old dog getting up there in maturity," said Johnson.
(Asked about these "old" nicknames, Herremans quipped: "I don't even know why. I'm the third youngest on the O-line. Evan [Mathis] and Jason [Peters] are both older than me.")
Jokes aside, Herremans has been very valuable in Johnson's development. He has played the tackle position, knows some tricks of the trade that can help the inexperienced Johnson out as he faces wave after wave of gifted pass rushers.
"That's Lane's way of telling Todd, 'I appreciate who you are,' because Todd has really taken good care of Lane," said offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. "He's really provided him with leadership on the field. I think Lane really enjoys playing next to Todd because of the confidence that he brings to the table."
On paper, this offensive line is about as good as there is in the NFL. But they've been far from impenetrable. Peters, bothered by a dislocated finger, showed his mortal side against Kansas City. Kelce had a pair of uncharacteristic miscues on Thursday night. Johnson, though incredibly talented, is still learning the ropes.
And then there's Herremans, the old bull who might not be as spry as he once was, but may just have the wisdom and savvy needed to make it down the hillside and get the job done.
"Obviously I'm not playing at the level I want to," said Herremans. "I went from being one of the steadiest pieces on this offensive line to not being quite as consistent as I had been in the past. Also, I think the talent level has risen quite a bit. So, you know, I'm just working on getting my technique better and putting in the extra time and the extra work I need to."
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