Riding Cowboys

Keeping the linebackers in line down in Dallas is the job for Ben Bloom, A05, G08

Ben Bloom in the booth at a Cowboys game

Preseason practices are underway at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys, and Ben Bloom’s goal is to separate the pros from the schmoes. Bloom, A05, G08, is the Cowboys’ quality control coach for linebackers, a position he’s held since 2011. If “quality control” brings to mind a fellow in a lab coat inspecting the widgets rolling off an assembly line, that picture is not entirely inaccurate. Bloom carries a clipboard and is diligent in his inspections. His assembly line is a row of husky athletes whose job is to execute the tackle, block and blitz.

The cracks and thuds of colliding helmets and shoulder pads echo around the park as players hoping to make the defensive squad muscle through drill after drill. A whistle blows, and the men form into position again—defensive linemen hunched over, one or two hands on the ground, and a few feet behind them, a trio of linebackers standing upright, their solid legs ready to spring into action.

Off to the side, Bloom focuses on the linebackers. He notes which wannabes seem to be best at thinking on their feet—an important quality, because linebackers need to read the opposing team’s play, and either tackle someone trying to run for yardage, or thwart a passing play. Later, he’ll pass his impressions on to the linebackers coach, and that info will travel up the ranks to the defensive coordinator. “I’m part of the assessment process,” he says. That process continues all season: after each game, plays and players are reanalyzed and recalibrated.

Bloom played for the Tufts football team as an undergraduate (his major was history), and while he was earning his master’s in education, he served as a graduate assistant defensive line coach for the Jumbos. The skills he picked up as a teacher-in-training and as a coach help him educate athletes on the value of team play so the defensive line moves like a well-oiled machine.

The most important qualities he looks for are a positive mindset and the ability to make good decisions, on and off the field. “Linebacker is a hard position to play, and if he’s got an attitude, he’s going to have a negative impact on the team,” Bloom says.

Zone Defense

Like every inspector, he sometimes has to reach into the line and pluck out a part that’s causing problems. That’s when the teacher becomes the disciplinarian. “There’s a time and place to publicly talk to a guy and let him know he has to step into line,” he says. “But generally, it’s a better idea to have that kind of man-to-man conversation one-on-one, when his guard is down and you can say, ‘Hey, this type of behavior is not positive, it’s not helping the team.’ And then I let him know that he’ll find more success when the whole team finds success.”

Unfortunately for the Cowboys, success—making the playoffs—has been just one lasso toss out of reach. The last time the team made the postseason was in 2009. The Cowboys’ defense in 2013 was ranked 26th out of 32 teams. But Bloom has learned to deal with adversity; his first job in the NFL was a two-year stint as a defensive assistant for the Cleveland Browns, a team that has had only one winning season in the last 11 years. “You have to constantly reevaluate the way you teach, and ask yourself, ‘Why did this play not work right?’” he says. “Winning takes the right balance of focus and energy.”

Focus and energy are two words the retired Tufts offensive line coach Mike Browne undoubtedly associates with his former player. “Ben was a tough and intelligent kid who picked up our system quickly,” Browne says. “In my 25 years of coaching, I’ve only had five freshmen make the starting team, and he was one of them.” Browne recalls watching Ben during team meetings. “When one of the coaches said something Ben knew wasn’t correct, he’d turn back at me and give me a look. And I’d just give him the high sign, ‘Be quiet. Be quiet.’”

Mike Daly, a former Jumbos football coach and now head coach of the men’s lacrosse team—which recently won its second national championship—has traveled to Arlington to watch Bloom in action. “It was a pretty cool thing to witness, to see the way he controlled the practice and got his points across.”

Working for the Cowboys not only gives Bloom valuable coaching experience; it has also brought love into his life: a woman who works in the Cowboys’ sales and marketing department is his bride-to-be. “My motto is ‘Be true to yourself,’” he says. “I’ve got a great family, a great fiancée, and at the end of the day, I want people close to me to be proud of me.”

This article first appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of Tufts Magazine.

Benjamin Gleisser is an award-winning journalist who lives in Toronto.

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