FLOWERY BRANCH - Standing on the field at the Arena at Gwinnett Center, the striking first impression hits from the bottom up.
To see the field, the ground appears typical. It's green bristles give the false illusion of grass. There are logos and script just like any other football field. The impression strikes not from its look, but from its feel.
The turf at the Georgia Dome and even at the indoor practice facility in Flowery Branch, where the Georgia Force practice, flexes with each step. It falls short of being soft, but the rubbery bounce make the field seem cushioned. At the arena, there is no give, no cushion.
From the first step the turf feels like worn carpet, thin and matted. Anyone who ever wrestled on the living room floor as a child or crawled on the carpet with an infant knows it's a texture best avoided, especially with bare skin and never with undo or unexpected force.
As a father, Chris Greisen certainly knows about rug-burns. As a quarterback this season, it's more of an afterthought.
Through 13 games, seven at home, Greisen has been knocked to the ground only a handful of times, with the ball in his hands that number is four. In a pass-first league, that paucity of sacks becomes all the more astounding. Through the Force's 13 games this season, Greisen has attempted 486 passes, meaning the team gives up a sack every 121.5 attempts. When Tampa Bay sacked Greisen in the third quarter last Saturday it was the quarterback's first sack in 265 pass attempts.
"That one was my fault," Greisen said.
"It is a great luxury to have four guys, five without two fullbacks, that there is just that trust when I go into the huddle and look them in they eye, I know they have my back."
No player on the offensive line can articulate an exact reason why this unit keeps Greisen off his back and, most of the time, contact free. They point to intangibles like trust and hard work. But even if they can't describe all the ingredients, the product is a success.
"We have total faith in the other guys' abilities," said center Ben Nowland. "If you mess up, they will have my back. It is just a good group of guys and we get along really well."
Another ingredient is the line's goals.
While the lineman all acknowledge the low sack number is a source of pride, the numbers they look at are hits. They don't want the opposing team to ever touch their quarterback.
"Going into each game, the motto is not to give up a hit," said offensive lineman Shane Grice. "We take pride in pass protection. We thrive on being able to protect the passer."
Then, there is discipline.
As the season has worn on Greisen has been able to adjust his snap count to keep the defense off balance or draw it offsides.
"We have been in some tight football games and we have been going on two or three and getting the defense offsides," said offensive coordinator Jim Kubiak. "Nothing happens without good protection."
The credit for the line's success flows both ways. Grice credits Greisen's quick decision making and Greisen says his confidence in the protection allows him to keep his eyes downfield on his receivers. Even early in the season, when the receiving corps changed weekly, the line allowed Greisen time to learn and work with the fluid group.
"Who knows where we would have been early in the year if we didn't have those guys," Greisen said. "As a quarterback your job is to look downfield, but if you are getting tagged or hit after you throw or sacked all the time you start looking at the pass rush. Our offensive line has allowed me to keep my eyes down the field so I can pick out one of our three great receivers.
"It's just a Domino effect."
With that time, Greisen grew comfortable with his receivers and it shows. The Force are No. 1 in the AFL in total offense, yards per play and passing offense. The team is also in the league's top 10 in scoring (third), touchdowns (third), rushing offense (eighth), yards per carry (eighth), rushing touchdowns (fifth), passing yards (second), completion percentage (third) and passing touchdowns (fifth). After a rough start, Georgia is now 8-5, in control of the Southern Division and on a five-game winning streak.
"During this five-game win streak I have been getting a lot of fame and credit," Greisen said. "That offensive line, they are busting their butt every single play for me.
"After every touchdown we score I go up and I give them a head-butt and a hug," Greisen said. "I really appreciated everything they do."
SideBar: Force at Destroyers
· When: Today, 7 p.m.
· Where: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio
· Radio: 790-AM