Thursday, April 20, 2017

The 1979 Rams "Dollar" Defense

By John Turney
PFJ Illustration

As with designated pass rushers or nickel backs (not the band) it would be difficult to exactly pinpoint when a facet of the NFL was first introduced. We will explore nickel and dime backs in the near future but today we want to explore something fairly recent in NFL terms:  The 'Dollar' defense of the 1979 Rams, which was seven defensive backs behind four defensive lineman.

The following are pages from the Rams defensive manual.

As it notes the coverages for the Dollar and Dime are the same as the nickel. The positioning of the two DBs (LBers) would vary according to the offensive formation, the Rams defensive line front and the coverage and call (if it was a dog (blitz, the Rams terminology was a 'dog' was a LBer rush a 'blitz' was a defensive back rush).

Another interesting note is that among the coverages is one that is called "Cover 22". While it may not be a familiar term, in today's NFL it would be called "Tampa-2".

In entails the nickel back (in this case from 1978-81 it was Nolan Cromwell) to play the middle linebacker spot and his coverage was the "hole"—the middle zone that extends into the deep middle in between the deep safeties who had the deep halves. Cronwell would be responsible for a receiver running up the middle. Jack Reynolds, a great run defender, just would not have been able to play this coverage like some of those linebackers Tony Dungy had in Tampa so it was regulated to nickel with the Rams in the Reynolds era.

Said Cromwell recently, "Ray Malavasi's defense was ahead if it's time, it had an answer for everything. NFL Defenses are often recycled but yes, the Cover-22 is the same as the Tampa-2 in terms of coverage assignments."

Here is a screenshot of the 1979 Rams-Cowboys playoff game and you can see the deployment of the secondary versus the Dallas spread.

After the December 31, 1979, divisional playoff game versus the Los Angeles Rams, Dallas coach Tom Landry said, "LA has played seven defensive backs against us before. They just have some talented backs there and you have to find the hole. They mixed things up on us and tried to keep us off balance. And they were hitting well on defense."

What he was speaking about was the Rams nickel defense that employed two defensive backs as linebackers and the Rams playbook called it "dollar" personnel, as opposed to the standard "nickel" for five defensive backs and "dime" for six DBs.

Rams coach Ray Malavasi, referring to the dollar defense said, "We tried to match speed with speed. Linebackers don't have the speed of receivers. It was Bud Carson who came up with the idea "He had planned to use it here in October but we had too many defensive guys hurt. It was very effective for us today.".

On likely passing downs Dallas liked to use a "spread" or "shotgun" offense. The had two excellent outside receivers, Tony Hill and Drew Pearson and a very good third wide receiver, Butch Johnson and also two very good situational running backs, Preston Pearson and Ron Springs. Although Tony Dorsett was a good receiver, Pearson would replace him on third downs because was just tougher to cover for most linebackers. Springs was also a good receiver but also a good blocker versus rushing linebackers.

So, the Rams pulled out a wrinkle in their playbook, which had been there for years, and used the seven defensive backs to counter the Dallas spread attack.
When the passing personnel of the Cowboys came into the game, the Rams pulled all three linebackers and brought in Dwayne O'Steen, Ivory Sully, and Eddie Brown. (technically O'Steen started the game at left corner because Pat Thomas was nursing an injury, but early in the game Rod Perry hurt his knee and Thomas came into the game as the left corner and O'Steen moved to right. Later, Perry was ruled by the trainers able to play and he came back into the game and Thomas and Perry, the normal starters, were playing in the base).

O'Steen and Sully would play the linebacker positions, Eddie Brown would play strong safety, Dave Elemdorf would play free safety and Nolan Cromwell would play the slot corner. The Rams were free to use any of their coverages and felt that the front four and O'Steen and Sully would be able to contain the running game that, in these situations, was sans Tony Dorsett.

"I had played nickel some in 1977, but I was the slot corner in 1978 so I'd played it before, but when we went with five defensive backs in 1979 I was the slot corner anyway, so it was nothing new".

Said Cromwell at the time, "We used seven defensive backs today when they were in the shotgun formation that's the only we changed (from game in October) and that way, instead of linebackers on the shotgun formation we had seven defensive backs".

Linebacker Jim Youngblood added, "We had a new nickel defense. We put in seven defensive backs. Yeah, it was very vulnerable to the draw, but we only used it only on third and long situations."

The base defense, even with Jack Youngblood playing on a fractured fibula, was able to bottle up Dorsett and the Cowboys running game just enough to put the Cowboys in third and long quite a bit. Roger Staubach was 13 completions in 28 attempts for 150 yards and one touchdown and one interception (by Eddie Brown) and was sacked one time (by Jack Youngblood in the 4th quarter forcing a punt).

That sack led to Rams getting the ball and allowed the Rams to be in a position to take the lead on a 50-yard touchdown strike from Vince Ferragamo to Billy Waddy putting the Rams ahead 21-19. Dallas then was stopped on their final drive and the Rams won the game by that score.

The Rams used similar defenses after 1979, but usually with six defensive backs and one linebacker. In 1980 and 1981 they had a player named Joe harris who was a smaller, quick linebacker who could cover and blitz and he'd match up with Jeff Delaney or Ivory Sully as the two linebackers. In 1982 George Andrews and Sully were usually the two linebackers in the nickel.  In 1983 the defense changed and it was Fritz Shurmur's 3-4 as a base and Shurmur kept the tradition alive and there were various and sundry packages in his playbook for "sub" defenses ("sub" is a catch-all term for all schemes other than base).

In fact, in some ways, the Rams recent defense with Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron as the linebackers in front of five defensive backs is similar to what was done in the late-1970s and early-1980s. Before those two the Rams used players like Adam Archuleta, Craig Dahl, Corey Chavous, Mike Scurlock, Michael Stewart and others to fill the role of a linebacker in the nickel defenses.

This is 2006 with Will Witherspoon and safety Corey Chavous as the LBers

This shot is from 1980 with Joe Harris (51) and Ivory Sully (37) as the LBers in dime personnel
This is 1996 with Roman Phifer (58) and Mike Scurlock as LBers. #91 is DE Leslie O'Neal
The Rams were not the only team to use seven backs, among others the Bills used it quite a bit in 1981. They had a safety named Rod Kush who could rush and cover and he'd play one linebacker, sometimes with Isiah Robertson as the other linebacker, but also sometimes Kush and Bill Simpson were the linebackers, Rufus Bess was the slot corner. Mario Clark and Charles Romes would play the corners and Jeff Nixon would come into the game and play Simpson's free safety spot and Steve Freeman would stay at strong safety. Kush intercepted a pass, recovered three fumbles and had 5½ sacks in his role as a linebacker, a role he reprised with the Oilers in 1985 when he had 5 sacks and a nickel linebacker.
Here you can see all four linebackers leaving this Bills-Jets game in 1981
Here Kush and Simpson are the linebackers, even agaist base (21 personnel) on 3rd and long

Most teams, though, would not use seven backs like the Rams and Bills did. They would use the traditional 2 LBers and 5 DBs most often, but there were plenty who used one linebacker and one defensive back as a linebacker in front of five defensive backs.

One such team was the Bears where Jeff Fisher and starting free safety Len Walterscheid as linebackers quite often, especially in 1982.

The above two shots show a nickel defense with one LBer (51 first, then 90) and two DBs as LBers
Another interesting one was the Cowboys. They had used six defensive backs in 1979, with Mike Hegman and DB Aaron Mitchell as linebackers and Dennis Thurman was the nickel back. In 1980 they had a fine young backer named Anthony Dickerson who was the linebacker in nickel and over the next several years he had different partners at linebacker, Sometimes it was Benny Barnes, then Charlie Waters or Dexter Clinkscale. But in 1983 he got perhaps his best partner in the role: Bill Bates.
Bates in the Box
Dicker is 51, Bates 40, Thurman 32, Fellows 27
Here Bates is in the MLB spot (similar to Cromwell in the Cover-22)
Bates was listed as a safety but his role was likely 95% linebacker. He and Dickerson would be behind the defensive line and Ron Fellows and Everson Walls would play outside corner, Dennis Thurman would play the slot and Michael Downs and Dexter Clinkscale would man the deep areas. In 1983 Fellows would come in the game with Bates and defensive lineman Don Smerek (who replaced John Dutton) and Thurman would move from corner to slot.

In 1984 Fellows was the starter at right cornerback in the base and Thurman would come off the bench. Bates would blitz (10 sacks from 1983-85 as a non-starter) or cover (six picks over the same period) and was a solid tackler if a team tried to run on the nickel defense.

Bates eventually earned the starting strong safety spot but still dropped to linebacker in the nickel defenses.

There are tons of stories related to this topic and we will post some of them going forward. We think it is key since these kinds of schemes are commonplace now but in the late-1970s and early 1980s it was new, interesting and considered ground-breaking. Though it may have been tinkered with earlier than that but we think that when it was used in earnest was the same time the passing game was opened up because of the mid-to-late 1970s rule changed and the era of substitution bloomed and remains in full force to this day.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Still The Best Ever: Richard "Night Train" Lane

By T.J. Troup
Much has been written about Night Train Lane—His life and his exploits in the NFL. He is to be commended for what he overcame in his childhood, and his belief in himself as an athlete. Many times I have used the line "film study tell us" and today again will detail observations of him and the teams he played for.

The Rams right safety Herb Rich, in early 1952, ranked among the leaders in interceptions. Rich had 6 after four games (twice pilfering 3 Lion aerials). During the 24-16 loss to the Lions on October 16th Lane intercepted the first pass of his career. He would intercept 13 passes the next eight weeks!
Los Angeles righted their ship and won down the stretch to earn a playoff berth for the fourth consecutive season. Watching Lane, he is quick, decisive, and at times explosive in defending the run from his right corner post. The best example of this is when he tackles Eddie Macon of the Bears for a safety.

Why quarterbacks continued to throw against him will be questioned forever but no doubt they either did not realize how gifted he was or he had already learned how to "bait" passers. To wit, how many players steal three passes in back to back weeks to end a season (in must-win games) and help take their team to the playoffs?

Film study (yes, that is what I relish doing) in 1953 shows a subtle change in his style. Lane moved up to almost the line of scrimmage when the left offensive end was aligned near the offensive tackle. He would allow a clean release by the end, and stride down the field with the intended target—but rarely now did teams throw to his man (he did not intercept in the first seven games of the season).

Though Lane only intercepted three passes in 1953; he made one of the best plays of his career:  Fred Cone of Green Bay attempts a 25 yard field goal, and the "Night Train" dashes in and blocks the kick and the ball bounces back towards midfield and beyond, and when Lane grabs it, he scores (listed as 30 yard return).
In 1954 Ram management takes part in a three-team trade that serves two teams well. Don Paul (defensive halfback goes from the Cardinals to Washington), but he refuses to report, and thus he winds up playing excellent football for Cleveland for five years. Los Angeles does not get near in return who they "gave" away. Joe Stydahar needs as much help as he can get in Chicago as the Cardinals are the least talented team in the league. Jumbo Joe will get Ollie Matson back from the military for 1954, and now again has Lane.

Arteburn, Breede, Brosky, Kingery, Crittendon, Kinek, and Oakley—who are these guys? They all attempted to play in the secondary for the Cardinals during 1954, and all will have very short careers.

The Night Train begins the season starting at right safety, but he is moved to left safety in week two on a rotation basis with Matson. Lane is basically the right safety the first half of the year and intercepts opposing passers four times. Since the above mentioned players have struggled and failed, off the bench comes future Hall of Famer Charlie Trippi to play right safety, and first Lane goes to left safety, and ends the season playing some left corner (Kinek was the usual starter there).

NFL Films has a segment on the Night Train and there are entertaining stories on him, yet for me his play against Washington in November says it all. He pursues from left safety to his right to neck tie-tackle halfback Billy Wells. The 'Skins halfback ducks under the tackle and takes off goal ward bound for an 88-yard touchdown. Lane will not give up and outruns his teammates to tackle Wells as he crosses the goal line.

Lane ends the 1954 season by intercepting in the Cardinals last five games and begins the 1955 season at left corner and intercepts in his sixth consecutive game. For years the league record manual would list him (along with Will Sherman) as the two record holders with interceptions in six consecutive games. I still have the memo from Elias Sports Bureau stating these two men were not alone in holding the record but the record and fact book would be changed. That is a story for another day.

This story concerns birthday boy Richard Lane. The Night Train plays well at left corner in 1955 and continues as a part-time receiver (his speed and athleticism make him a deep threat). Ray Richards has the Cardinals on the upswing in 1956, and with the valuable assistance of secondary coach Wally Lemm they win for the only time in the decade. Chicago has revamped the secondary and is the best in the league, with Lane now established as the best left corner in the league. Fearless against the run since he relishes contact, and still knifing in front of receivers for the "pick".

The best example is week two when Lane takes an errant Charley Conerly pass for 66 yards and a key touchdown. The Chicago Cardinals are 2-0, but cannot maintain their momentum (they split their last ten games). Opening day 1957 the Cardinals upset the play-off bound 49ers as they open the game in a hybrid nickel coverage. The Night Train intercepts twice early in the year, but is shelved by injuries during the second half of the year and as such does not make the Pro Bowl (he was not chosen for the Pro Bowl in '52 when he set the record, nor was he a First-team All-Pro).

Lane returns to health in 1958 and again is the best left corner in the league. Chicago, under Pop Ivy, is aligned in a double wing offensive formation most of the time; and though entertaining the turnover machine makes a shaky defense very vulnerable. The 1959 campaign is more of the same, yet Lane continues to make quarterbacks pay; even future Hall of Famers as the "Dutchman" Norm Van Brocklin learns early in the year when Lane goes 37 for a touchdown on a pick six.

His time ended in Chicago as he is dealt before the 1960 season to the Lions for Gerry Perry. A trade that no doubt ranks among the worst the Cardinals have ever made. Detroit is back in contention in 1960 and the Night Train has evolved. His alignment at left corner is now playing off turned on an angle towards the quarterback, his thought process—'I want the ball from that man, and have to see him while maintaining outside leverage against the wide receiver my side (usually a flanker)'.

A young Dick LeBeau is learning his lessons at right corner (when he is not moved to left safety due to injury) and in his own way the Night Train had an impact on the youngster with his "triangle vision" of pass defense. The 1961 season is a fascinating one in league history and there will be a rule change due to the Night Train. Jon Arnett swing out the backfield for a pass in Briggs Stadium and Lane, as always is, supersonic in coming up and going high on Jaguar Jon. This famous photo impacted the league, yet have seen other clips of him taking Taz Anderson and Mike Ditka to the deck with head hunting tackles, 'Face mask be damned, you are going down'. Thus, you can no longer grab the face mask to tackle.
Though he is entering the twilight of his career he continues to intercept in key situations; ask Unitas about his wide side throw in October of 1960, or Bart Starr on Thanksgiving day of 1962. The first half of 1963 he intercepts five times, but his knee needs surgery and the Lions are no longer contenders. How do you replace a man of this caliber? You do not! Aged Jim Hill, and young Jim Kearney attempted to do so until secondary coach Carl Taseff thought Bobby Thompson was ready. Thompson just does not measure up though he is given three years to establish himself.
Lane's last interception came against the Colts and Unitas on October 25th, 1964 in a 34-0 blowout loss. The Night Train was even put on waivers, and no one claimed him; thus he returns to Detroit to spend part of the year on the taxi squad. There have been many outstanding corners since Richard "Night Train" Lane retired, yet for me, he is the benchmark to be measured by. His versatility in playing both safety posts, and both corner positions along with his ability to play pass defense and be a force in tackling whether in pursuit or on the "force". Happy Birthday Night Train.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Remembering Dan Rooney (1932-2017)

By Chris Willis, NFL Films

Dan Rooney at his 2000 Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction (Photo courtesy of Chris Willis)
I’ve worked at NFL Films for 21 years, and unfortunately, I never met Dan Rooney, although I was present in Canton, Ohio in 2000 to watch him get enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But that was the closest I ever came to meeting him. So it was a bit of surprise in June of 2015 when I received a phone call from Mr. Rooney. 

He wanted to talk to me about my book on Joe Carr, the former NFL President from 1921-1939, that was published in 2010. He told me he enjoyed reading my book on Carr and the NFL’s formative years—an era that included his father Art Rooney starting the Steelers. The reason for his call is that he wanted to know more about the letters I used in the book. He told me he was writing a book about the history of the NFL through letters. I thought it was a great project and agreed to help. A month later I emailed a few items I found for his book project. He was very grateful for my help.

When I heard the news today that Mr. Rooney had passed away at the age of 84 my initial reaction was to think back to our one phone conversation two years ago. It was a short twenty-minute conversation among millions for him. But for me it was twenty minutes I’ll always remember and cherish. We lost a bit of NFL history today. Rest in Peace Mr. Rooney, you will be missed.
Rooney in uniform. Colorizations by PFJ

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Exploring the Origins of the Designated Pass Rusher: Part I

By John Turney

It is difficult to know exactly when an innovation entered into pro football. The safety blitz was purported to have been invented by Larry Wilson in 1961 but in 1960 the Oilers of the AFL employed the same tactic the year before.

The same is true of the nickel back, when was it first employed? No one is really sure. When was it employed "in earnest" that is when it was a dedicated part of a defensive game plan would be a better test.

The same is true for the so-called "designated pass rusher" or nickel rusher. Today it is commonplace, so much so that it's not talked about much in the media, either on the Web or during games, but it is a vital position. Sometimes it's an older player coming in at the end of his career or a younger player with his young legs taking the place of a 3-4-type end when a team uses four down linemen.

Film study has yet to reveal the first time it was used in the NFL, but we do have a good idea of when it was used in earnest.

Years ago we spoke to Paul Zimmerman, then SI's head writer. He mentioned he thought perhaps Larry Cole, in 1968 would come in to fill in for a heavy-legged starting left defensive end Willie Townes. But, Townes was injured early in the season and Cole became the starter anyway.

In 1969 Roger Brown sustained an injury and youngster Coy Bacon became the Rams starting right tackle, but when Brown returned they split time and T.J. Troup indicates that essentially Bacon, the younger, quicker player was used on pass downs in a platoon with the older, heavier Brown.

However, neither really did it for a sustained time. We think that distinction came in 1970 when Cedrick Hardman was a rookie. He was a dynamite pass rusher in college and taken in the first round by the San Francisco 49ers. He was, though, not ready to be an NFL starter. "Heck, it took him until 1972 to learn how to close a trap. He threw a party for him when he got it done", says then 49er linebacker coach Mike Giddings. Hardman started five games that season after the 49ers coaching staff had tried to groom Hardman. Early in the season he'd rotate in at right defensive end, but "the idea was to get him run-stopping experience in the rotation and then get him into the game on passing downs" recalls Giddings.

It worked well as the 49ers won the division and Hardman led the team in sacks with 8½. In the following clip you can see Bill Belk leave the game and Hardman enter the game and make a play.
In Baltimore, Bill Newsome sometimes was used in a similar role. He beat out Roy Hilton early in the season but later, Hilton re-secured the right DE spot, but there were plenty of times film study shows Newsome at left DE and usual left DE Bubba Smith playing inside and Hilton playing right DE. Billy Ray Smith, the 34-year old tackle was out of the game. Interestingly, in reviewing Super Bowl V these variations were not used much, if at all.

In 1971 George Allen used newly acquired Jimmie Jones in the same way. (He also used Bill Brundige as a rush tackle to relieve Manny Sistrunk on pass downs). Jones was a tall, light, extremely quick player who led the Redskins in sacks in 1971 with 7½ sacks, the first we know of to lead a team in sacks while starting only one game.

In this clip you can hear Frank Gifford mention this Redskin duo entering the game in a passing situation.
In the Los Angeles Rams employed what they called their "57" defense when they would try and get three DEs on the field on passing downs. Deacon Jones was the left DE and early in season he missed a few games with a fallen arch, rookie Jack Youngblood filled in and the Rams won all three games. When Jones returned is when the Rams used the "57" with Youngblood playing right DE (a position he hated) and usual right DE Coy Bacon reducing to defensive tackle.

In the same game as the first clip you can hear the ABC announcing team mention Youngblood's role, coming in on a pick 6 and leaving on a 3rd and one.

The next season Youngblood started 11 games at left DE and newly acquired Fred Dryer started three, but in the games Dryer got a lot of action in the "57" playing right DE and again, Bacon playing inside. Dryer ended the season with 4½ sacks.
In 1973 Harvey Martin won the designated role in training camp and he'd play in sure passing downs at left defensive end, with, ironically, Larry Cole going to the bench. Martin ended the season with 9 sacks as the Cowboys advanced to the NFC Championship game.

Cole, at LDE in Dallas base 4-3 flex

Martin in game at LDE in place of Cole
This clip shows Martin come in on a 3rd down and 17 and sack Fran Tarkenton in the NFC Championship game.
The next season number one overall pick Ed Jones was the designated rusher on the right side, Martin on the left and Bill Gregory would come in for Bob Lilly. Lilly told Pro Football Journal, "they replaced me on passing downs my final tow years and to this day I don't know why. At that stage in my career, I was a better pass rusher than run player".

Here are some more stills from 1973:

Here Martin is in for Cole and Bill Gregory for Lilly.

This is the Dallas base 4-3 flex with Cole as LDE.
Pat Toomay said the experience was fine by him, "More effective pay per play" he wrote in his book The Crunch. "I was getting paid the same no matter how many plays, so, the way I say it my 'pay per play' went up". After the season Toomay was dealt to the Buffalo Bills and in 1975 Ed Jones and Harvey Martin switched sides and became the starting DEs in the "Doomsday II" defense and Martin ended the 1974 season with 7½ sacks and Jones had 6 (in Dallas they were called 'traps') sacks.
In 1974 the New Orleans Saints used a 3-4 defense quite a lot. In that scheme their usual 4-3 right DE, Joe Owens, would be on the bench. Bob Pollard would play right DE in the 30. When they went to nickel (4-2-5) Pollard would play inside (similar to what Bubba Smith and Coy Bacon had done and what Howie Long and Dan Hampton would do in the future) and Owens would come in and be the sack master, and he led the team in 9½ sacks.
The Saints when they used a 3-4 as a base

Here is their 4-3 base defense, note the RDE is #82 Pollard.

Here is the nickel with Owens at RDE and Pollard at LDT
Also in 1974 the great Deacon Jones filled the DPR role for the Redskins. Jones had started all 13 of his previous seasons but signed with the Redskins and George Allen to try for one more shot at an NFL title. Jones played both left and right DE, usually taking LDE Ron McDole's place (McDole is who left the game, usually, in 1971 when Jimmie Jones came into the game) and the Deac ended the season with three sacks, though he had one taken away due to a penalty.

Joe Owens was used in the same role in 1975 as well, finishing with 6½ sacks. However, there were times he'd spell new right DE Stave Baumgartner at right DE in the times they used the 4-3.
In 1975 the Cowboys had another stud rusher they had drafted: Maryland's Randy White. Dallas thought he'd end up being a starting linebacker in their defense, eventually. In the meantime, he'd be used in a variety of ways, mostly as a rusher on pass downs. The Cowboys would line up White as and outside linebacker in a 3-3-5 defense and rush, either from the right or the left. He'd also take either Jethro Pugh's spot at LDT or Larry Cole's spot at RDT and rush on 3rd and long situations and would also line up as a nose in a 3-man line. He had 11 sacks combined in 1975 and 1976.

Here are some examples of White's play in 1975 and 1976 lining up in various spots.

The Chiefs had a rushman in 1976 as well and they finished with 5½ sacks and only started three games. We have not seen enough 1976 Chiefs film to know his role exactly, but we suspect it was as an inside rusher in likely passing downs, in that the Chiefs had decent ends, Whitney Paul and Wilbur Young, though they seem to be reversed in where they lined up, but that's a different topic altogether.
Continue reading in Part II:

Exploring the Origins of the Designated Pass Rusher: Part II

By John Turney
In 1977, after about a decade of NFL teams toying with it, the designated pass rusher (DPR) became really, a mainstream scheme in the NFL. Early in the season of the Raiders got injured and newly acquired end Pat Toomay was to step in at left DE. However, right DE Otis Sistrunk knew Toomay preferred the right side and volunteered to play left DE and Toomay could play right. Toomay had some success in the preseason and when the Tooz came back, the Raiders, who used a base 3-4 defense would send Toomay in at right DE, and Otis Sistrunk would move to right LDE and Matuszak would play defensive tackle.

Toomay proved very effective, seemingly being featured by Howard Cosell on the weekly halftime highlights of ABC's Monday Night Football. Cosell didn;t choose the highlights, NFL Films did, but Cosell did the narration and was always effusive about Toomay. The Raiders ended 11-3 and Toomay had 14½ sacks, which subsequent research reveals led the AFC. He finished a sack ahead of Tony "Mac the Sack" McGee of the Patriots.
In 1974 the Patriots, who had flirted with a 3-4 defense in 1973, committed to a 3-4 defense full-time and were the first NFL team to do so (the Oilers followed around mid-season). tony McGee was acquired from the Bears for the 1974 season and was and extra lineman. He had 4½ sacks in 1974, and he did play some designated rusher, usually, though it was in a 3-4 defense, taking starting LDE Mel Lunsford's place. So, it wasn't an every-week thing, but they did try, late in games to get McGee in th games. In 1975 injuries forced McGee into a starting role and he kept it for the 1976 season.

In 1977, however, Lunsford regained his starting role and the Patriots began to use a 4-man line with their 5 defensive back scheme, rather than the 3-3-5 they used in 1974-76 (with some exceptions). McGee thrived and had 13½ sacks for the season.

McGee in a 3-man line at left end
Mel Lunsford in the Patriots 3-4 base defense at LDE
 The Eagles began using s 3-4 in 1977 and they had a WFL castoff, Len Burman come in and rush in their nickel and he garnered 10 sacks in that role. Others played the spot as well, though not with the success of Toomay, McGee and Burman. Rookie Ezra Johnson had 3½ sacks in the role in Green Bay, for example.

McGee, who could be one of the poster children of the role was big-time again in 1978 with 11½ sacks. Pat Toomay said "For whatever reason, the Raiders didn't use the 40 nickel much in 1978 and I didn't get the snaps I did in 1977". Toomay ended the year with just 4 sacks.

"In 1979 there were rumors the Rams wanted to trade me to the Rams to take Fred Dryer's play, who they thought was too small. The trade fell through and then Otis (Sistrunk) got hurt and all-of-the-sudden I am nose-up on a tackle". Toomay meant he was the starting right DE in the 1979 Raiders 3-4 defense.
That season the DPR for the Raiders was youngster Willie Jones and he finished the season with 10 sacks from the left DE spot in the 40 nickel. But he wasn't the top player in the DPR role for 1979. That honor goes to Oilers rookie Jesse Baker.
In 1979 the Oilers (who had been in a 3-4 since mid-season 1974) were not getting a lot of rush so they began to use more 4-man lines in likely passing downs and the key player was Jesse Baker. Elvin Bethea was the starting right DE but only had 1½ sacks for the season but Baker (who spelled him some at RDE) made up for it, leading the AFC (unofficially) with 15½ sacks. Baker usually was an inside rusher in the 40 defense but did play some at right DE.

Again, Tony McGee was money with 11½ sacks. Also in 1979, the Patriots moved former starting RDe Julius Adams from a starting role to a role similar to McGee's only on the opposite side and he tallied 5½ sacks. The following year, however, Adams returned to his starting role and went to his first Pro Bowl.

In Washington Joe "Turkey" Jones would play LDE in the nickel (the Redskins still used a 4-3 base defense so Jones was coming in for the usual LDE) and finished with 6½ sacks. Dallas's Bruce Thornton played LDT on passing downs and also had 6½ sacks and was especially noticeable in big games.

The Jets used a 4-3 defense and the rookie starting left defensive end was Mary Lyons. On passing downs fellow rookie Mark Gastineau would come in to replace him. Lyons told Sports Illustrated "it doesn't make you feel worth a damn when they take you out on the gravy plays".
In 1980 another milestone for the DPR was reached: It was the first season a player in that role won a Super Bowl. That player was actually two: Cedrick Hardman, and Willie Jones. Hardman led the Raiders with 9½ sacks and played RDE when Raiders went to a 40 defense and Jones, who had a good season the year before was the left DE. The 3-4 starters, John Matuszak and Dave Browning reduced to tackles to complete the foursome.
Had the Eagles been able to pull out Super Bowl XV that honor for first DPR to win a Super Bowl would go to Claude Humphrey. Humphrey was to play in the designated role in 1979 but due to injuries he was pressed into starting service but in 1980 the nickel front Dick Vermeil wanted came to fruition and Humphrey finished with 14½ sacks.
The Denver Broncos employed a 3-4 quite often in the med-1970s and committed to it full-time in 1976 but they chose to get pressure from blitzing, keeping their 3-man line in games in likely passing downs. In 1980 that changed with Rulon Jones and Greg Boyd. Jones would enter the games and play DE and Boyd would usually play inside in the new 40 nickel and combined they totaled 20½ sacks.

Again, steady Tony McGee produced, this time with 8½ sacks. Cardinals rookie Curtis Greer was brought along similarly to how Cedrick Hardman was with the 49ers in 1970, as a rusher to use his skills and in a rotation to cut his teeth in defending against the NFL running game.

In Anaheim the Rams used a three-man rotation at defensive tackle with Larry Brooks and Cody Jones as starters and Mike Fanning filling in, but Rams tried to make sure Fanning was in he game in the nickle/dime defenses and Fanning, though just starting three games, Fanning had 10 sacks, second to Jack Youngblood on the team.
In 1981 yet another milestone was passed with Fred Dean becoming the first DPR to get post-season honors being voted the UPI NFC Defensive Player of the Year and being a consensus All-Pro and Pro Bowler. Dean started 7 games in 1981 but 4 of them were with the Chargers before the trade to the 49ers and the other 3 were in games when the 49ers opened in a 4-2-5. Dean had 12 sacks with the 49ers and another with the Chargers. He was considered the key to the 49ers making the jump to a Super Bowl-quality defense.
Rookie Howie Long was an inside rusher in the 1981 version of the Raiders pass rush. Hardman still played right DE but was not as effective as he was in 1980 and Willie Jones was injured mid-season, Long filled the gap and had 8½ sacks.

In Buffalo the Bills used Ken Johnson as a tackle in their 4-man line and he had 8 sacks for the season. Miami used former starter Kim Bokamper in a designated role and he sack the quarterback 7½ times. Jesse Baker became a starter in 1982 but he finished his "apprenticeship" as a DPR with 6½ sacks in 1980 and 10 in 1981 to bring his three-year total to 32.

Oddly, in 1981, Tony McGee had only 6 sacks though he was forced into being the starter at LDE due to injuries to other players. It seems he had more productivity per play as a third-down rusher than as a starter. After the season he was let go and finished his career with the Redskins.
Continue reading in Part III: