Sunday, July 1, 2018

DON KINDT & The 1951 Bears

By TJ Troup 

The Birth of the Modern 4-3 Defense (publishers changed my title) was my labor of love to detail the decade of the 1950's. Would have done all ten years; except did not have enough film on some of the teams from 1950 through 1952.

I recently did a story on Bud Grant and the '51 Eagles, and this is my next foray into 1951. The Chicago Bears have won 37 of their previous 46 regular season games from 1947 through 1950. The Cardinals and Rams have dealt the Bears six of the nine losses.

Studying film of the Bears is a joyous undertaking, so let's dig deep into what the hell happened for this team to falter down the stretch in '51.

Coaching: George Halas still has Paddy Driscoll and Luke Johnsos helping him, but there is a distinct change on the Chicago staff. Hunk Anderson has left and is replaced by Clark Shaughnessy. Thus begins a chapter of mystical/complex defenses for the Bears under a man who is viewed as vital to the history of modern pro football.

Personnel: Sid LuckmanKen Kavanaugh, and George McAfee all retire. Finding players to fill those shoes is going to be a difficult challenge. The Bears are a veteran team, yet having five choices in the first 36 picks in the draft should help. Bobby Williams is the second selection in the draft, and gets some playing time during the season. Since the 1950 green and grey clad Colts are disbanded, the players go into the draft, and with the tenth choice, the Bears take halfback Billy StoneGene Schroeder is chosen at twelve, and Bill George as a future at twenty-three. Wil Whiteis selected at thirty-six. The rest of the draft yields very little.
Johnny Lujak, Credit: Getty Images
The Chicago Bear offense is very similar to most of the other teams in the league scheme wise. Standard full house double tight end offense. Halfback motion to form a three-receiver alignment, and of course, double split end sets. Johnny Lujack ended the '49 season with a game for the ages, and earned a pro bowl berth for his sterling play in 1950. Athletic and savvy, he can lead an offense either running or passing. Early in his career he started as a defensive halfback, and was outstanding. Lujack is chosen for the Pro Bowl in 1951, but is not deserving.

He is woefully inconsistent passing and does not run near as often. Rumors of shoulder and knee injuries surface during the campaign, yet no one will ever know to what extent his maladies cost his team. Once known as a very crisp and willing tackler, Johnny is a shell of what he once was. His understudy who actually starts half the time during the year is Steve Romanik. He has enough arm strength, but holds the ball too long, and forces throws into coverage. Romanik plays, and the Notre Dame All-American Williams watches. Julie Rykovich (last year) and George Gulyanics are the halfbacks, and run hard. Rykovich has enough speed and moves to break the long run, but is inconsistent. Fred Morrison can play either halfback or fullback, while Chuck Hunsinger has an excellent burst of speed. Billy Stone is a fine receiver, and carries the ball on misdirection outside plays. Quality depth to be sure in the Bear backfield.

The 1950 draft allowed Chicago to select John "Kayo" Dottley, and boy oh boy does he deliver in 1951! Physical, powerful, with nimble feet, and surprising speed for a fullback . . . Dottley earns a Pro Bowl berth. John Hoffman is a versatile athlete who fills in at left linebacker in the "red zone" but is the starting left offensive end. He is dependable, yet by no means a game breaker. The right offensive end is shared by Schroeder, Sprinkle and veteran Jim Keane in his last year. Keane who caught 177 passes in the past four years is at the end of the line. Keane contributes a few catches in the last two games of the year. Long-legged swift Schroeder lacks seasoning, but gets open deep, and has a future. These men provide firepower since the Chicago Bear offensive line is one of the best, and TOUGHEST in the league.
Clyde "Bulldog" Turner
Paul Stenn is the starting right tackle and acquits himself well in all facets. Taking over at right guard for rookie Jerry Stautberg early in the year is Washington Serini. He is solid as a drive and pass blocker, yet the Bears love to run the counter play with a pulling guard, and over and over again during the campaign Serini's quickness is the key to the play's success. Clyde Turner is still a bulldog, and at the age of 32 has seen it all. He earns a Pro Bowl berth and is the leader of this team as Captain.

Having served his apprenticeship in the AAFC Dick Barwegen is coming off a strong year in '50 and duplicates his performance in '51. He can double team, drive and pass block, and of course pull and trap. He just might be the best left offensive guard in football. Lined up next to him at left tackle is either Wayne Hansen or George Connor. Much has been written about Chuck Bednarik in 1960 as a two way performer and the minutes he played down the stretch. The best two-way player in the early '50's is George Connor. He starts both ways all season. An excellent pass blocker, who can drive block with the best of them. When Connor needs a breather Hansen enters the game and is fundamentally sound. More on Connor when the defense is covered. 
Starting at right defensive end in the Bears 5-3-3 defense is Ed Sprinkle. The "Claw" is chosen for the pro bowl and is a feared pass rusher. He has his moments, and though undersized he never backs down from an opponent. Sprinkle has built a reputation as a "dirty" vicious player, and on film you see his aggressive nature more than once. Ray Bray began his career in 1939, and the veteran warrior is still as tough as ten fields of Texas onions. He is a rock at holding his position, and is more than adequate as a pass rusher at the age of 34 in his last year. Bray earns a Pro Bowl berth in his final campaign.

Rookie Bob Moser begins the year as the starting middle guard, but when the Cardinals exploit him in the second week of the season, he is benched. Moser does get playing time late in the year. Replacing him after the Packers release him is massive Ed Neal. Those blacksmith forearms of Neal battered Bulldog Turner for years, but now Turner gets to watch in glee as Big Ed smashes other centers. Immovable at the point of attack; Ed Neal contributes right away as Chicago fights their way into the National Conference race. He does not finish the season with the Bears, and is sorely missed against Cleveland and the Rams. Veteran Fred Davis in his last year is the starting left defensive tackle. While he does not stand out, he is consistent, and durable.
The left defensive end is the most under-appreciated defensive end/pass rusher in the league. Bill Wightkin sheds blocks with aplomb, and pursues with a vengeance from his stand-up stance. While he is not Len Ford ...who is? Wightkin is athletic enough to play left offensive end and even makes a key deep reception in the victory over Detroit. Stu Clarkson in his last year gives a solid performance at right linebacker. A savvy pass defender, he also switches sides and plays some at left linebacker.
George Connor
The starting right linebacker is none other than George Blanda! That is correct. Tougher than an old shoe, and willing. Blanda has much to learn but does a credible job defending the run. George also has his moments as a pass defender. George Connor is usually the middle linebacker in the Bears 5-3 defense, yet he is also aligned at strongside linebacker in the 5-2, and at left defensive end or "reduced" down at defensive tackle—Where ever Clark S. needs him to be aligned Connor is THE MAN. Instinctive, with excellent speed for a big man. Film study shows him intercepting in the left flat against the Lions, pursuing across the field time and time again and making the tackle against any and all runners. If the league voted for most versatile lineman he would win hands down.

Shaughnessy will ask his linebackers to play both man to man and zone coverage, but he NEVER EVER asks his secondary to play zone. Al Campana plays some at safety the first three games of the year, and is gone. Taking on that role is Gene Schroedermost of the time. His speed gets him to the ball, but he struggles at times with the angles to the ball, and is a very poor tackler, who does not like contact.

 Don Kindt, rushing for a TD versus Rams in 1947

The left corner for most of the campaign in his only year is rookie Brad Rowland. He helps the team by returning kickoffs, but he is attacked repeatedly and with success by opposing quarterbacks. Rowland is in and out of the line-up during games and does not record an interception all year. Billy Stone plays both corner positions, but more at right corner. As mentioned earlier; Johnny Lujack starts and plays right corner during the year. Much like George Connor; Don Kindt is so savvy and versatile he plays every position in the secondary. Safety in the 5-3-3. Left or right corner in the 5-3-3, and when Clark S. changes the Bear defense for the Cleveland game Kindt is the starting left safety. A fine ballhawk, he pursues well and is a strong tackler.
Bobby Layne
More on the secondary as the games of the season are examined. Chicago has a 3-1 record when they go to Detroit to take on a contending Lion team. Bobby Layne is in complete control of the Detroit offense, and though the Bears always beat the Lions—Layne is having none of it. Dottley's powerful running, a few timely passes mixed in has the Bears back in the game. Sprinkle blocks Tulsa Bob Smith's punt and Bill Wightkin grabs the bouncing ball on the Lion three-yard line and trots in as Chicago downs Detroit 28-23.

Off to the Nations' Capitol and the scalping of the Redskins 27-0. Washington whether in the standard T-formation, or the spread cannot move the ball all day. Shaughnessy utilizes his defenders in alignments that no one has ever seen, and as such Bears are alone in first place. Dottley and the rest of the Bear runners zipping their way through and around Redskin defenders gain over 300 yards rushing. When the Bears are on the Redskin seven-yard line Don Kindt enters the game at fullback and runs his circle route to perfection to catch a touchdown pass, He ends the game with an interception—thus he is the LAST Bear player to intercept a pass, and catch a touchdown pass in the same game.

The rematch with Detroit in Wrigley is a huge step back as Layne throws for 259 yards and four touchdowns. The Bears rebound on November 18th at Wrigley as they beat a stubborn Packer team 24-13 after being down 13-3. Though Tobin Rote weaves and dashes his way through the Bear defense; the Chicago ground game is still a juggernaut with 256 yards on the ground. Eight games into the year and John Dottley has gained 533 yards on 94 carries. The key question, can he keep it going and get enough help to carry this team to a division title? The Lions win on Thanksgiving, thus on Sunday morning the 25th of November Detroit is 6-2-1. The Bears and Rams are 6-2. Los Angeles is shell-shocked in the loss to the Redskins. George Halas now faces Paul Brown and his defending champion Browns in Cleveland. This game should be seen by all who value the history of the game. So, there are highlights you ask? Where to start? A record-setting game for penalty yardage by one team(Cleveland), and both teams combined (over 350 yards).

Shaughnessy makes a momentous decision. He switches the Bears 5-3-3 to a 4-3 similar to the Giants. There are differences, but more important; how strong and consistent is your defense going to be when you have practiced that defense for only a few days? The Monsters of the Midway are shredded for 550 total yards (a team record for opponents) of offense. Dub Jones ties Ernie Nevers's record of scoring six touchdowns in a game. Jones runs 9 times for 116 yards and catches 3 passes for 80 yards.
Add to that, Mac Speedie gains 144 receiving. Early in the game Sprinkle aligned at right linebacker has man coverage underneath with the split end and intercepts. He later strips Otto Graham of his helmet and the ball and returns the pigskin 55 yards for a touchdown. Connor gives it is all whether he is at linebacker or defensive end. Kindt is now playing left safety in a four-man secondary, and Ray Bray abuses Abe Gibron the entire game.

Graham is sacked and rushed hard, but 550 yards is 550 yards and a 42-21 demolition. No doubt Paul Brown showed that wry little smile as he walked off the field. Jones earned every touchdown with an incredible performance, yet why of why would Shaughnessy switch defense. Me personally, I dance with the girl I bring. The next week at Wrigley the Bears can erase the Rams and move back into first place since the late season red hot 49ers have knocked off Detroit.

The photo in Jim Campbells' book shows the Ram backfield of Waterfield, Hoerner, Towler, and Younger. Los Angeles can align with three big backs, thus the "Bull Elephant" backfield which has been successful at times during the year.

The Bear o-line dominates the 1st quarter with 22 running plays for 100 yards. Is it possible to gain 400 yards rushing against the Rams? The rest of the game the Bears gained 166 on 34 carries, but the 17-7 lead evaporates as Waterfield and Van Brocklin orchestrate Hamp Pools' offense (learned from Shaughnessy) into victory. The Rams gained 513 yards in total offense. Young Andy Robustelli puts the game away in the 4th quarter as he records sacks on three successive plays, and as such the Bears who started at midfield, are now faced with 4th and 42 from their own eighteen-yard line.

The defensive passer rating is a tool that I have used with success in evaluating teams. The Bears rating of 66.5 ranks ninth in the league. Closer examination though tells us that the lack of a consistent pass defense cost the Bears a division title. In the Bears seven wins the rating was an adequate 51.4, but in the five losses a pathetic 92.2.

Still, the Bears can get back in the race, and easily beat the woeful Yanks, and still have a chance on the final Sunday of the season. They must beat the Cardinals, and have the Niners again beat the Lions (which they do). The Rams beat Green Bay to finish 8-4, but the Cardinals as they relish doing, again knock off the Bears. Trippi passes for 106 on his 9 completions from a spread formation, and weaves his way through the Shaughnessy defense for 145 yards on 13 carries. Johnny Lujack after his awful game against Cleveland, will end his career with two solid games as he completes 18 of 33 for 290 yards.

Tomorrow will be Don Kindt's birthday, and though the Bears of '52 & '53 will be very poor teams, this man was a durable and versatile player his entire career in Chicago.

1 comment:

  1. Great article, Coach! Love the Bears of the 40s, and your research shows and explains the transition every great team must go through at some point. And I always enjoy anything that features Johnny Lujack!