Hall of Fame offensive tackle Anthony Muñoz got a late start to his golf game but has no hesitation admitting he's an early and dedicated fan of Alijah Vera-Tucker, the second of the Jets' two first-round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The two former USC offensive linemen, one drafted No. 3 overall in 1980 and one drafted No. 14 overall in 2021, had a chance to meet in person before the draft at a Pro Football Hall of Fame annual mentor/mentee event Arizona.
"I happened to be out there with Vera-Tucker," Muñoz said. "You get to spend the day in the classroom talking football, then it's out on the football field to go through technique questions. I went through some things I used. It's a cool program all about mentors and mentees for a young man who's going to be drafted. We went over some techniques, and he asked a lot of questions. Some guys are hesitant, but we talked it through. I showed him stuff, he showed me stuff.
"The first thing I knew about Vera-Tucker was that he played guard, he opted out because of Covid, then when the Pac-12 decided to play, he played left tackle and he played extremely well. I knew he was versatile, to move from inside to outside and to be effective. ... I knew he was a pretty good offensive lineman, but the thing I noticed right away was how genuine and down to earth he is. At the same time, he's focused and eager to get to work. He wanted to learn. That's the sign of a guy who's going to be a great, great player. He wants to learn and he's not satisfied with his performance at the college level."
Muñoz played 13 seasons in the trenches for the Cincinnati Bengals. That's impressive longevity at a position that can eat men alive. His accolades and awards are impressive: Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year (1991); nine-time first-team All-Pro; 11-time selection to the Pro Bowl; first team NFL 1980s All-Decade Team; NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team; and NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team. In college, he played on USC's national championship team in 1978 and overcame a knee injury to return and play in the 1980 Rose Bowl victory over Ohio State.
Vera-Tucker also had a stellar career at USC. According to Pro Football Focus, AVT played 975 total snaps in pass protection and allowed only 5 sacks, 3 quarterback hits and 8 quarterback hurries. Vera-Tucker's career pass-blocking grade was 91.6, which is the second-highest among offensive linemen in the 2021 draft class. This year he won the Morris Trophy, awarded by the Washington Athletic Club, to the best offensive and defensive linemen in the Pac-12 Conference
Asked about the mentality, or mean streak necessary for an offensive lineman to succeed in the NFL, Muñoz pointed to an interesting contrast among the guys in the trenches on offense.
"Most offensive linemen are cut from the same cloth when they get off the field, easygoing, cordial, nice," Muñoz said. "But get them between the lines and try to get to the running back or the quarterback and a switch turns on. No way. You're going to do what it takes to keep them off my guys. He's right there, calm, poised, being a professional even on college level. When it's time to produce I wouldn't look at Vera-Tucker on the field like there's a rookie out there. He's just a rookie because he was drafted. Once he starts mixing it up, that's all behind him. He wants a starting position. He's just going to be poised, polite, then you'll see a different side once he's on the field."