the full monty

(photo by Brian Murphy)

Realizing that we’ve reached a painfully uneventful portion of an already uncharacteristically quiet offseason for the Washington Redskins, Homer McFanboy is here to the rescue. We’re busting out the first of a five-part series on the biggest surprises of the 2007 season. We’re spotlighting five guys (not to be confused with Five Guys), who exceeded expectations and give ‘Skins fans plenty of reason for optimism heading into the 2008 season. Up first, Anthony Montgomery.

Montgomery was drafted from the University of Minnesota in the fifth round (153rd overall) of the 2006 NFL draft. He’s begun to make a name for himself as a defensive tackle, not a character on Star Trek (although that Anthony Montgomery did play a killer role in Leprechaun 5: In The Hood).

Coming into the league, Montgomery, who is originally from Cleveland, Ohio, could easily be described as a Baby Huey or a Gentle Giant. He’s 6’5″ and was more than 330 lbs. when he first showed up at Redskins Park. In fact, some folks around the league talked about possibly making him into an offensive lineman because some talent evaluators believed he was too laid back to make it on the defensive line. But with all that body to work with, the coaching staff saw enough potential in Montgomery to keep him on the defensive side of the ball.

Growing up, I don’t know if he dreamed of one day playing in the NFL, but if he did, Montgomery didn’t really do his homework. He’s since admitted that once he made the team as a rookie, he didn’t know the Redskins could cut him. That explains why Kedric Golston, who was drafted in the sixth round (196th overall) of the same 2006 NFL draft, earned more playing time than the man they call Monty in their rookie year. For the 2006 season, Montgomery logged just 11 tackles and a half sack in five games, with one start in a largely uneventful season.

But riding the bench with a no-nonsense guy like Greg Blache overseeing the defensive line was a blessing in disguise for Montgomery. That offseason, he dedicated himself to eating healthy and to a strict training program, in hopes of toning his raw frame and building better endurance. As Phillip Daniels would say, “There was no half-steppin’.” Montgomery gave up fried foods and put in more time at Redskins Park than the secretaries, and it paid off. By the time the 2007 season started, the kid had dropped 20 pounds and looked like a football player. Veterans like Joe Salave’a and Renaldo Wynn were cut, but Monty was not.

Respecting the effort, the Redskins coaching staff had no choice but to find time for Montgomery, who played in all 16 games and emerged as a regular starter. He logged 47 tackles (35 solo), a half-sack and two fumble recoveries during the season, but the numbers only go so far. Montgomery looked particularly strong in wins over the Detroit Lions (where the defense surrendered just 68 yards of rushing on the day), the Dallas Cowboys (who rushed for one — I repeat — ONE YARD the entire game) and in the playoffs against the Seattle Seahawks. When he’s on his game, he’s clogging the middle and giving running backs nowhere to hide.

I’ve had several chances to chat with Montgomery, and can honestly say he’s one of my favorites in the locker room. In fact, I’m on the record as calling him a “beast.” To his credit, he laughed at me and told me he took it personally when he had to sit most of the 2006 season and still takes it personally when a running back tries to run on his defense.

And Monty is a bit superstitious too. Turns out he did some stretching and warm-ups with fellow defensive lineman Chris Wilson towards the end of the 2007 season. The team won and both guys played well, so there they were, for the rest of the regular season, stretching together in the endzone before each game. As a hockey player who won’t even wash my jersey if I play well, let’s just say I can relate.

One of the other things I respect most about Montgomery is he’s there during the good times and the bad. He’s willing to do interviews after a win, but he’s just as willing to talk after a loss. After the team’s season ended against the Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs I asked Monty how much time he planned on taking off.

“The season didn’t end the way we wanted it, so we can’t take a lot of time off,” he said. He planned on taking a week or two tops, and then heading back to Redskins Park for what he called “unfinished business.” That’s a vast improvement for a guy who was seemingly content to collect a paycheck without putting in the time and effort to become an elite football player as a rookie. Now, he’s completely transformed his body type and seems destined to be a force in the trenches for the ‘Skins for the foreseeable future.

That’s why, on the first day of minicamp, I wanted to check in with Anthony Montgomery. To see how he’s progressing and to have him weigh in on the new coaching staff. It was an enjoyable interview, which can be heard here, in which we tackle everything from avoiding a foot in the ass courtesy of his new defensive coordinator to taking the family to Disney World. Even though the Redskins might not have earned the trip to Disney that comes with winning the Super Bowl, we can give Monty a pass this time around. If this team is going to get there, it’s going to be because of players like Montgomery getting the job done.

Random fact: Montgomery excelled at three different sports — football, baseball and basketball — at John F. Kennedy High School in Cleveland. He averaged 17 points, 12 rebounds and three assists as a three-year all-conference member in basketball, hit 14 homer runs and struck out 60 batters as an all-state baseball player and even played some quarterback for the football team.

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