Wednesday, March 13, 2019

1953 Defensive Player of the Week: The Year of the Pass Defender

LOOKING BACK
By TJ Troup
The defensive player of the week for the seasons of 1950 through 1952 have featured quite a number of defensive lineman. Though defensive lineman and linebackers still played an integral role during 1953 there is a subtle shift in that a number of pass defenders will be featured—many of them safeties.

The overall rushing statistics are still virtually the same, and the total number of passing yards goes up just 4 yards a game per team. The biggest difference is in yards lost attempting to pass (sacks); and there is a dramatic drop-off from an average of 302 a team in 1952 to 233 in 1953.

September 27th: The Colts have returned to the league and win at home 13-9 over the Bears as Bert Rechichar intercepts three passes. He returns the thefts for 36 yards, and his 36-yard touchdown return is the difference in the game.
Len Ford, Browns defensive end
October 4th: The best defensive end in the league still has his moments; and that end is, of course, Len Ford as he again pillages a pass pocket in taking down Cardinal passers four times in the Browns 27-7 win.
Gene Brito, Redskins defensive end
October 11th: We have co-defenders of the week in left defensive end Gene Brito and left safety Don Doll. Brito has been switched to defense this year, and though he only plays when Washington is in a traditional 5-2, he sure makes an impact. Relentless, quick, and very strong for his size Brito torments every New York Giant lineman who attempts to block him.
Don Doll played outstanding football for both the Lions and Rams, and the veteran brings his savvy to the Redskin secondary. Don intercepts 3 passes for 43 yards; including a fine 28-yard return in the 13-9 win over the Giants.
Leo Nomellini, 49ers defensive tackle
October 18th: San Francisco is again a contender, and their defense is led by player of the week Leo Nomellini. The Bears gain just 74 yards rushing as Leo the Lion with his quickness continually destroys Chicago running plays. The Niners pull out a close one 35-28.

October 25th: Los Angeles needs to beat the Bears to stay in contention with San Francisco and Detroit. Left safety Norb Hecker pilfers two passes and returns them 24 yards. The second interception was key as Hecker intercepted on his own two-yard line as Blanda was attempting to rally the Bears.
November 1st: There are times the award must go to a player in a losing cause, and that is the case this week as corner Don Paul of the Cardinals steals 3 passes for 57 yards in the 23-20 loss to the Giants. Don has always been a man who could make the big play, and he is exciting to watch on either offense or defense, yet now he is much more consistent and has found a home on the defensive side of the ball as a corner for the lowly Cardinals.

Jack Christiansen, Lions defensive back
November 7th: Saturday evening game and the Lions with a victory over Baltimore will still be tied for first place with Los Angeles and San Francisco. Detroit earns a hard-fought 17-7 win as left safety Jack Christiansen intercepts 3 passes for 42 yards (he had a fourth taken away due to a penalty). Now in his third year, Jack has become the best pass defender in the league as he leads the league with 12 interceptions. He has now intercepted in five straight games, and his ability to diagnose plays, and range all over the field making open field tackles is impressive. Christiansen would have won defensive player of the year if such an award existed.

Chuck Bednarik, Eagles linebacker
November 15th: The co-players of the week are right linebacker Chuck Bednarik of Philadelphia and Yale Lary of Detroit. Concrete Charley is by far the best right linebacker in the league and watching film of his two interceptions in the 45-14 win over Baltimore are textbook. The angles he takes on his pass drops, and the swiftness he exhibits on his returns of 41 yards, and the 26-yard touchdown demonstrates his greatness. The Lions have the best safety tandem in the league with Jack Christiansen and Lary. Yale's three timely steals(he returns them 54 yards) help Detroit hold on and defeat Green Bay 14-7.
November 22nd: Philadelphia has the best pass rush in the league, and is also strong against the run. Bucko Kilroy of the Eagles is a rock at middle guard. He helps stonewall the Cardinal rushing attack (58 yards) in the 38-0 whitewash as Philadelphia wins for the sixth straight week.
Bobby Dillon, Packers defensive back
November 26th: Thanksgiving in Detroit and the Packers are determined to knock off the defending champion Lions. Right safety Bobby Dan Dillon in his second season is the most improved defender in the league. He ties the league record as he intercepts four times. He now has intercepted 9 in the past seven weeks. Dillon's range and speed serve him well until he is injured in this game as the Packers collapse in the 34-15 loss.
Don Paul, Rams linebacker
December 5th: For the Rams to have an outside chance to win the western division they must win on this Saturday afternoon against the Colts. Right linebacker Don Paul intercepts and recovers a fumble in the 45-2 demolition of Baltimore. Paul, as usual, is a force against the run as he leads his team to victory.
Jack Butler, Steelers defensive back
December 13th: The Redskins have played outstanding football down the stretch, and a win today would give them second place in the eastern division. Pittsburgh always plays the 'Skins tough and today right cornerback Jack Butler is the difference in the 14-13 battle. Jack ties the league mark with 4 interceptions, and he returns them 86 yards. His longest return of 36 has never been corrected in league manuals, and his 5-yard touchdown return in the 4th quarter is the winning touchdown.

Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown—Historic Trades?

PERSPECTIVE
By John Turney
Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown were traded this week to the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders respectively.

Beckham was traded for a #1 (No. 17 overall), a #3 (95) and Jabrill Peppers. Brown's bounty was a third-round pick (66) and fifth-round pick (141).
Brown had the baggage of a high cap number making trades different than in times past and he's older than Beckham. Brown is a four-time First-team All-Pro and a seven-time Pro Bowler, Beckham a two-time Second-team All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler but has some physical characteristics Brown (and few receivers) have.

Regardless, these are two of the top 5-7 wide receivers in the NFL in our view and to be moved is not common. But, here are a few comparisons of some receivers traded while still in their prime—

In 1970 All-Pro and future Hall of Famer Paul Warfield was traded from the Browns to Miami for a 1st round pick (the 3rd overall). The Browns coveted Mike Phipps and knew the best way to get him was to trade Warfield. Warfield was 28 at the time and had been All-Pro three times in his six seasons with Cleveland.
In 2005 the Vikings had grown weary of Randy Moss's act and traded him to the Raiders for linebacker Napoleon Harris and a first-round pick (#7th overall) and 2005 seventh round pick (#219). Neither side won, the first-round pick (Troy Williamson) was nowhere near Moss's ability and production and the others contributed little. Moss was traded from the Raiders in 2007 to the Patriots where he came alive again, but that did nothing for the Raiders.
Terrell Owens, in 2004, was traded to the Ravens for a couple of weeks (and a 2nd round pick) but in an odd situation Owens voided the deal and as SB Nation put it, "In a complicated three-way trade, Owens wound up with the Eagles, which gave him a seven-year, $49 million contract."
James Lofton's production slipped a little in 1986 but was still just 31 years old and still a feared wide receiver in the NFL. Al Davis knew he wanted Lofton's speed and height and gave the Packers a 3rd round pick and a 4th round pick (#71 and #88) for him.
In 1973 the Rams traded for John Hadl and still had Roman Gabriel on the roster. Gabriel was not pleased and demanded a trade. Somehow the Rams were able to get two first rounders (both turned out to be #11 overall) and a 3rd rounder plus Tony Baker (a fine short yardage back) and All-Pro wide receiver Harold Jackson who led the NFL in catches and receiving yardage in 1972. This one wasn't really a case of trading a wide receiver as a hijacking. Gabriel did play well for a year and a half for the Eagles, but the Rams got five years of Pro Bowls from Jackson plus the picks.
In October 2008, the Lions traded Roy Williams and a 7th rounder to Dallas for 1st, 3rd and 6th rounders (#20, 82, 192).

In October 2009 the Browns sent Braylon Edwards to the Jets for two players and a 2010 second or third round pick (conditional) which turned out to be the #92 overall and a 2010 fifth round pick (#160). Edwards was a year removed from a 16-TD season in 2007 and his production was declining.
On October 22, 2018, the Cowboys sent a first-round pick to the tanking Raiders for Amari Cooper.

So, some worked out okay, others not so much, but that is always the case for trades. If people knew the future it would be a lot easier. So, while some of these were dumps of wide receivers who were disgruntled (Moss, Brown, Beckham, etc) some were using their capital to get a quarterback (Jackson, Warfield) and some were desperation moves to get a solid number one receiver (Williams, Cooper, Edwards) the way we see it few performed better after their trade than before it.

So, as always, time will tell.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Cedrick Hardman—Another Fine Pass Rusher Gone Too Soon

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
A week ago Jack Gregory, a 100-sack career player passed away and today the news hit that Cedrick Hardman is gone, too. Hardman also had over 100 sacks in his career (121½). Hardman passed away March 8, 2019, at the age of 70.

Hardman was drafted out of North Texas University by the San Francisco 49ers in the 1st round (9th overall) of the 1970 NFL Draft. He was a standout at North Texas, being named to their athletics Hall of Fame and was named to the Missouri Valley Conference All-Centennial Team, and was named to the North Texas All-Century team as well.

He began his career as a designated pass rusher and a rotational player on the 49ers defensive line, but late in his rookie season secured a starting spot. He was very effective as a pass rusher right away in the NFL but his run defense did lack some. One of his 49er coaches, Mike Giddings, said that they "held a party for Ced after he closed his first trap. The party was in 1972, his third season".

Nonetheless, he was a key player for the good 1970s 49er teams that won the NFC West from 1970-72, making the Oakland Tribune's All-Rookie team in 1970 and in 1971 he was Second-team All-Pro while leading the NFL (unofficially) with 18 sacks.

Additionally, Paul Zimmerman named him to his personal New York Post All-Pro Team in 1971 and named him to his personal All-Decade Team for the 1970s. Hardman ended his 49er career with 107.0 sacks and that coincided with the decade of 1970-79 and that 107 sack total was, according to PFJ, the most of any player in the 1970s.
He had 14 sacks in 1975, among the NFL leaders (again, unofficially) and was Second-team All-Pro and went to his second Pro Bowl. But thhat was really it as 'honors' go, 1971 and 1975. He was honorable mention a few times and made some lesser-known All-Pro teams (see below) but it is amazing that someone with his stats was esstentially a two-time 'All-Star'.

Hardman was a flamboyant type, he drove a Caddilac with the personalized plate of "NASTY" and wore the 'mod' clothes of the 1970s era. He reportedly spent much of his rookie salary on his wardrobe which eventually included a "$450 black and white leather suit with fringe on top and on the sides and a 12-inch peace symbol on the front".
From 1970-75 Hardman played in the 'Flex' defense, implemented by Tom Landry disciple Dick Nolan and as such was hampered some in the pass rush, like the Cowboys linemen were. Often on running downs, they had to line up a half-yard or more off the ball and if the opponent happened to pass it put the defensive linemen in a more difficult situation than if they had played a more usual defensive scheme.

His defensive line coach Paul Wiggin said "our concept of defense there is no place for a one-man show. This puts a restriction on guys who want to blow in the backfield on every play". Still, in his six seasons in the Flex scheme, he totaled 67 sacks.

In 1976 the scheme changed with Monte Clark as head coach and Floyd Peters as the defensive line coach. They installed what was an 'up the field' philosophy or what could be termed a "Jet" scheme and in it Hardman thrived when healthy. From 1976-78 he had 36.5 sacks yet was not able to garner much All-Pro or All-NFC support. (It should be noted the 49ers 'Gold Rush' recorded 61 sacks in 1976, best in the NFL and that the scheme helped Tommy Hart become an All-Pro that year as well as Cleveland Elam the following year).

His line coach, Earl Leggett said in midseason, 1978, "Cedrick's doing a helluva job for us. It's an accumulation of things, individual effort, he gives us leadership".

Legget added—

In 1979 Hardman played through a bad ankle injury in what he said was "a year he shouldn't have tried to play". He gutted it out for new coach Bill Walsh but logged just 3½ sacks by far his lowest NFL total.
In May 1980, Walsh traded Hardman to the raiders for a fifth and six round picks and with the Raiders he found a new role or an old role depending on how one defines it. He was the Raiders right end in sub (nickel/dime) packages just as he was for the majority of 1970 for the 49ers. He was the first designated pass rusher to earn a Super Bowl ring (a year before Fred Dean did it for the 49ers) and he led the Raiders with 9½ sacks.

Hardman returned to that role in 1981 and that ended his NFL career. He returned to pro football in 1983 as a starting right defensive end for the Oakland Invaders of the USFL and led that squad with eight sacks. Hardman could seemingly roll out of bed and rush the passer, which is what Hardman once termed "the main reason for living the first 13 years of my adult life".

Hardman, at 6-3, 255, and a 4.8 or so 40-yard dash but a very quick 'get off', would likely be a high draft pick now as an edge rusher and that cannot be said of all the players 40-50 years ago but the way the NFL game is played now, Hardman, with his skill set, would fit having enough size and speed to compete. Pro Scout, Inc. said this, "(P)erhaps no DE had his upfield burst of speed. Made him ‘trappable’ early in career but his ‘eyes lit up’ when 49ers put an opponent in 3rd and long”. Essentially those comments confirm that he was a rush-the-passer first kind of player, but since he did that so well, he was a valuable player.

Hardman dabbled in acting during and after his career, but he also coached. He was a head coach a Laguna Beach High School but that was derailed when Hardman was arrested for cocaine possession, something that haunted Hardman.
In Stir Crazy with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor



Shots from 1972's "The Candidate" Starring Robert Redford
In 1990 he got a second-chance when George Allen hired him as a volunteer coach for Long Beach State University. Allen said at the time "I wanted to help him get over the hump because I know he's a good man".

Yes, he was.

Career Stats:

Complete Honors:
1970s All-Decade Team (Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman)

Major All-Pro Squads:
1971 Second-team All-Pro (PFWA); Pro Bowl
1975 Second-team All-Pro (NEA); Pro Bowl

Minor All-Pro Squads:
1971 First-team All-Pro (Paul Zimmerman—New York Post)
1972 Second-team All-Pro (Football News)
1975 First-team All-Pro (Cliff Christl—Green Bay Press-Gazette)
1976 First-team All-Pro (George Allen—Sport Magazine)

Major All-Conference Squads:
1971 Second-team All-NFC (UPI)
1972 Honorable mention All-NFC (UPI)
1975 First-team All-NFC (SN)
1976 Honorable mention All-NFC (UPI)
1977 Honorable mention All-NFC (UPI)

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Jack Gregory—A Worthy NFL Career.

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
Jack Gregory, former Browns and Giants defensive end passed away March 2, 2019, in Monroe Country, Mississippi. He was 74.

Gregory, (6-5, 255), was a consensus First-team All-Pro in 1972 and was a Pro Bowler that season and in 1969 as well. Additionally, he was a Second-team All-AFC selection in 1970. He is unofficially credited with 103 quarterback sacks for his career (38 with the Browns and 65 with the Giants) and was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.

Gregory was a tight end in college but was converted to defensive end after being drafted by the Browns in the 9th round in 1966. He entered the NFL a year later after playing one more college season with Delta State. (he began his collegiate career with Tenn-Chattanooga).
In 1967 he backed up Paul Wiggin and Bill Glass, starting three grames for an injured Wiggin. In 1968 he started six games, give for Glass. The following season he was the starter at right end after Glass retired and as mentioned made the Pro Bowl after recording ten sacks.
In 1970 he recorded 14½ sacks, among the top in the NFL that season but he didn't garner any post-season honors.
In 1972 the Giants gave the Browns a First-round pick (Steve Holden) and a Second-rounder (Greg Pruitt) for Gregory and Freddie Summers. Gregory was the right end for the Giants from 1972-78, although in 1972 and 1973 he moved all along the line as a de facto rover. His defensive coordinator, Jim Garrett, used Dan Birdwell in similar ways when he was with the Raiders.

Gregory's role, especially in 1972 was effective as he was All-Pro and had 18½ sacks (Sometimes reported as 21 but he had 16 solo sacks and 5 half-sacks) which led the NFL.
In 1973 and 1974 he recorded 9 and then 9½ sacks and followed that up with 14 in 1975, again among the NFL leaders and he was an honorable mention All-NFC selection. He was off some in 1976 (4½ sacks) but had a nice comeback season in 1977 but dropped off in 1978, finishing with just 2½ sacks.

In the Summer of 1979 Gregory, in a battle for his right end position with Gary Jeter, walked out of Giants camp and a day later demanded a trade, which he was granted—to the Browns, his original team. 

He played right end most of the season, taking over when Lyle Alzado had to love to left end and then to defensive tackle when other Browns were felled by injuries. Prior to that, he was usually rushing in nickel situations. 

Mike Giddings of Pro Scout, Inc. stated about Gregory, “Underrated pro. Who won by both ability and smarts. The type whose ‘numbers’ add up when you finished evaluating him.".

Sunday, March 3, 2019

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK 1952: Newcomers Take Their Place Among the Elite.

LOOKING BACK
By TJ Troup
Today is my listing of the defensive players of the week for 1952: Chose today since it is Randy Gradishar's birthday, and am of the firm belief he should be enshrined in Canton.

That said, let's take a look at the 1952 Defensive Players of the Week—
Tommy James
September 28th: The Browns seeking revenge for the title game loss to the Rams opens the season against Los Angeles with a 37-7 win. Right corner Tommy James intercepts both Van Brocklin & Waterfield in the first half(these two passers ranked #1 & #2 in the passer rating in '51). Cleveland builds an insurmountable lead as both Ram quarterbacks finish with a passer rating of 0.0!
October 5th: The starting right corner for the Cardinals is rookie Ollie Matson. The Cardinals trail 10-7 when the former Olympic medalist returns a Bear kick-off for a touchdown. He shows strong ability in defending the run as the film shows him tackling both Dottley and Hunsinger with physical tackles. The Bears attempt at a comeback win is foiled when Ollie rips the ball away from a Bear and dashes into the end zone with his fumble return touchdown in the 21-10 victory.
October 12th: San Francisco was the hottest team down the stretch in 1951, and in their late season victories they beat Detroit twice. The opening day win over the Lions at Kezar is impressive, yet today we are at Briggs Stadium, and you just don't beat a Buddy Parker team four times in a row. Do you? Oh, a 28-0 shellacking on the road serves notice to the league that the 49ers are for real. When a team pitches a shut-out many men contribute, yet two 49ers stand-out today. Rawboned rangy left defensive end Ed Henke plays the outside run well, hustles on special teams (impressive open field tackle), and helps pillage the Lion pass pocket for 5 sacks. Ed also forces Layne to throw early as he rockets in from his stand-up stance.
Hardy Brown
The other co-Player of the Week is undersized linebacker Hardy Brown. San Francisco aligns in an over shifted 5-2, and when the ball is on the hash linebacker Don Burke plays the wide side of the field, while Hardy is aligned near the middle of the offensive formation. Hardy makes numerous tackles and hits with his technique known as the "the Humper". Brown drives his should into ball carriers and receivers, and almost always drops them in their tracks. His open field "Humper" on Bobby Layne late in the game is a classic. Detroit gains just 40 yards rushing the entire game.
Len Ford
October 19th: Len Ford can never match his season of 1951, yet his game against Philadelphia is a true testament that he is the premier defensive lineman in the game. The Eagles gain just 45 yards rushing, and since one of the running plays is a 36 yard gain by Don Stevens—Philly gains just 9 yards on their other 20 running plays. Len leads a pass rush that garners 6 sacks, and he recovers two Eagle fumbles in the 49-7 win.
October 26th: No one knows who holds the record for most sacks in a game. Paul Lionel Zimmerman (Dr. Z) shared his thoughts with me and many others about this game and his personal notes record that Norm Willey had 8 sacks and Pete Pihos had 4 and two other players had the other two as the Eagles had 14 sacks for 127 yards in losses in the 14-10 victory over the Giants.
Pete Pihos
As such we again have co-Defensive Players of the week. Left end Pete Pihos & right end Norm Willey
November 2nd: Detroit has rebounded from their early-season struggles and today beat the Browns 17-6. Underrated defensive end Jim Doran records 4 sacks and pressures Otto Graham the entire game.
Andy Robustelli
November 9th: Right defensive end Andy Robustelli returns an errant Dallas Texan pass 14 yards for a touchdown, and leads a pass rush that garners 6 sacks in the 27-6 victory. Los Angeles is coming on strong, yet needs to win out to have any chance of winning the division.
November 16th: Lean rookie right defensive end Blaine Earon is not a household name, not even in Detroit, yet the youngster helps his teammates limit the Dallas Texans to just 68 yards rushing in the 43-13 demolition of Dallas. Earon also recovers a fumble, the first of 5 he will recover down the stretch as the Lions take aim at a division title.
Ace Loomis
November 23rd: Who do the Texans play today? Why the up and coming Green Bay Packers. Ace Loomis pilfers two Texan tosses (he returns them 78 yards, including one for a touchdown). The Packers are now 6-3 and have designs on being a factor in the division race late in the season.
November 30th: The Steelers score 63 points! Ok, the black & gold never score like this, but someone had to play strong defense since New York scored just 7. Safety Claude Hipps intercepts 3 times (he returns them 31 yards) to keep getting the ball for Jim Finks and the offense.
Jack Butler
December 7th: While a case can be made for Richard Lane as defensive player of the week (more on him soon), the defensive player of the week is second-year right corner Jack Butler of the Steelers. San Francisco has fallen from contention and gets soundly thrashed at home in Kezar 24-7. The strong Niner ground game gains just 70 (Butler's strong run support is always a factor), but his 2 interceptions are key to the win (he returns them 29 yards). Two wins in a row for Pittsburgh and now they travel south to Los Angeles in their quest for three in a row to end the season and deny Los Angeles a tie for the conference crown.
Nigh Train Lane
December 14th: Unheralded rookie right corner Night Train Lane has now intercepted 11 passes in his last eight games of the year. His three thefts helped beat Green Bay on December 7th. No one ever intercepts three passes in back to back games, right? Oh, this cool cat from Austin Texas, who played junior college ball at that football powerhouse Scottsbluff in Nebraska is not just anyone?

First quarter and Pittsburgh faces 3rd and 20; as Finks passes and Richard Lane intercepts and returns 12 yards. Rams drive deep but are denied at the goal line. Second quarter, and on 2nd and 10 Finks throws to his left, and Lane knifes in front of the receiver and speeds 42 yards to score for the Rams. Third quarter and Pittsburgh is on the Los Angeles twenty-one yard line as Finks fires again, and Lane intercepts again. This time on his own eight-yard line. He returns 12 yards.

The Rams offense drives eighty, and scores to put the game out of reach. Buddy Morrow sings about the "Night Train", and that is his nickname now and forever for the defensive player of the year. Lane has now recorded 14 interceptions in the last nine games to set a league record that still stands, and the Rams have won eight in a row to tie Detroit for the division title. In closing this saga; sure appreciate the comments at the end of my last story, and hope there is more of the same.