Thursday, August 29, 2019

Does Everything Have to Be Political? The Carli Lloyd Saga

OPINION
By John Turney
Of course, the above headlines have started a Twitter firestorm (as usual). And predictability it came down to two sides. Some seasoned NFL media, in our view, simply virtue signaling by saying that "I think she can do it" (How can you possibly know?) or others making fun of a Viking kicker who badly missed a field goal (and you think a woman cannot kick in NFL).

Others, quicky ridiculed by the aforementioned seasoned NFL media, mentioned her lack of size, experience, her advanced age for an NFL newbie (Fellow, people don't start playing baseball at your age, they retire).
Now we don't take either side, we offer opinions on what does happen and have no rooting interest as to if she gets a tryout or if she doesn't.

We would suggest that someday a woman may kick in the NFL. We'd predict that she'd have to play high school football, do well, go to a college team, do well and then get drafted or signed by and NFL team. She'd be closer to 23 years old rather than 37. She will know about the snap, the hold, kickoffs, have to make some (not a lot) tackles, kickoff, execute some onside kicks, and all the other nuances that it takes to be an NFL kicker.

One cannot just walk off a soccer field and be an NFL kicker because you have a strong leg any more than a great NFL player could go to major league or World Cup soccer and do well.

If a person (not just a woman) wants an NFL tryout as a kicker at an advanced age should they play perhaps semi-pro for a season, earn the kicker spot, wow the league with their skills and in a world of social media show their successes (long kicks, short kicks, kicks in snow, onsides kicks, kickoffs) on Twitter or Youtube and gain the attention of the scouts. Why can't Carli Lloyd do that?

Even Jim Morris had to go to a tryout, then get signed and then prove himself. Roy Hobbs had to get discovered by Scotty Corson after blowing away his Double-A baseball league.

And why cannot the major media report on it along those lines? Why does it have to be Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs? That is not what this is.

I would agree that some of the 'cons' on the subject focus too much on her size and possibility fo getting hurt. Honestly prevailing would be admitting there is some truth to that but maybe not to the level the naysayers suggest.

What the media should be focusing on, if they were truly reporters they would tell us more about what transpired on that field when she kicked a 55-yard field goal. How may kickers were there? Hay many did she make versus miss? Did they talk to the special teams coaches (even on background) and ask them if she passed the 'eye' test—steps, leg speed, the sound of the ball, things they know like the back of the hand.

So, we salute Lloyd for pushing this, it's a great try but we criticize the media for mostly being cheerleaders rather than reporters. It's nothing more than a worthless Twitter fight now (a naysayer posts and a so-called NFL reporter says 'should I block this guy now for giving his opinion?") and that is too bad.

It seems to us it's a lot of self-righteousness by a lot of pro-Carli media and them dumping on those raising fair questions and yes, a lot of sexist comments by a lot of fans. But fans are fans. The media is supposed to report some facts. Sure, we value the opinion of many in the media, we follow lots of them on Twitter, but we've seen precious few serious pieces on this subject.

We were a fan of Becca Longo who, at least, was trying to be the first NFL kicker in a way that was fair and equitable, by kicking in high school and attempting to do it in college. We also applauded Katie Hnida who kicked here at the University of New Mexico and do so with great courage after being treated horribly and criminally at the University of Colorado (where the punishment of the program was vastly unjust). Both earned their chances along the way.

So, come on media, give us the facts, THEN opine. Not the other way around. Tell us honestly, by talking to scouts and coaches, does she deserve a tryout based on being an all-time great soccer player or is this something to simply further divide people in this country over?

If so, we refuse to join the NFL media borg. Clay Travis (who we neither love or hate—except his business model, break us off a piece of how to make money in this industry) did make a great point when he suggested many commentators won't speak out because they will be targeted by said NFL media borg. We will see if we get backlash for not taking a political side and asking honest questions that pertain to this great athlete's abilities to kick in the NFL and why she gets to cut in front of the line (unless there are some 37-year old men who have never played football are getting NFL tryouts we've not read about).

Aren't questions good?

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Falling Down: Aaron Rodgers Poised to Become the Packers' Most-Sacked Passer

By Eric Goska
Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 412 times. (Chip Manthey photo)

"It’s not how many times you get knocked down that counts,

it’s how many times you get back up."

Aaron Rodgers can relate to that sentiment. At some point this season—barring injury—he will have been knocked down and gotten back to his feet more often while attempting to pass than any quarterback in Packers history.

Getting sacked is an occupational hazard for all quarterbacks. Rodgers knows this as well as anyone. On the cusp of his 15th season, he’s been a party to many pass plays that end with him lying prone on the field.

Since becoming Green Bay’s starter in 2008, Rodgers has enjoyed success. A two-time league MVP, he led the Packers to the playoffs eight straight years (2009-2016). In February 2011, he became a Super Bowl champion by virtue of Green Bay’s 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rodgers’ regular-season totals are beginning to pierce the outer fringes of the all-time best. He’s among the league’s Top 20 career leaders in pass attempts (5,492—19th), yards (42,944—17th), completions (3,560—16th) and touchdowns (338—10th).

At the same time, he’s been terrific at avoiding interceptions. When it comes to the 80 he has thrown, his name is far down the list in a tie with Bill Munson at No. 158.

Avoiding turnovers through the air is one reason Rodgers is the highest rated passer (103.1) in NFL history.

Tackle David Bakhtiari  protects
Rodgers' blindside. (Eric Goska photo)
Rogers’ accomplishments often overshadow his vulnerability in the pocket. For a guy who can use his feet as well as his arm, No. 12 has been sacked more often than one might expect.

Longevity can account for only so much of that.

Brett Favre was sacked more often than any player in NFL history. He was dumped 525 times in a career that stretched 20 seasons.

Favre is also the Packers’ all-time leader. In 16 seasons with the team, he was set down 438 times while attempting to pass.

That’s a lot of time on the ground. But Favre dropped back to pass 9,192 times while in Green Bay. His average (one sack for every 20.98 pass attempts) is a low for any of the 15 Packers players who were sacked at least 20 times in their careers.

Rodgers, who has been sacked 412 times in 14 seasons, will likely move past Favre sometime in November. He has dropped back to pass far fewer times than his predecessor (5,904), and the rate at which he gets trapped (one sack for every 14.33 pass attempts) is far more frequent.

Rodgers is 26 short of tying Favre’s team record. Hitting or exceeding that number in 2019 is all but given as he has been sacked at least that many times in nine different seasons.

When talking in terms of seasons, Rodgers is the leader of the Pack. He has been dumped more than 40 times in a team-record four seasons. He owns the top three spots (51 in 2012, 50 in 2009 and 49 in 2018), and the 46 he endured in 2015 ranks fifth behind the 47 of Don Majkowski in 1989.

Even Lynn Dickey, who was robbed of much of his mobility by injury, never exceeded 40 in one season.

Perhaps more alarming: Rodgers (409) has been dropped more often than any quarterback in the league since 2008. Philip Rivers (359) and Ben Roethlisberger (355) are a distant second and third.

Rodgers’ susceptibility to getting sacked might be less worrisome if the Packers were piling up wins. But back-to-back losing campaigns in 2017 and 2018 have offered a reminder that Rodgers—whatever the reasons may be—gets sacked too often.

Three appears to be the tipping point for the quarterback. Green Bay has gone 35-37-1 (.486) when Rodgers has been sacked three or more times. The club is 65-20 (.765) when that number is lower.

Ideally, the Packers would like to keep Rodgers clean. The team is an impressive 14-3 (.824) when he is not sacked. It is undefeated at Lambeau Field (10-0).

Keeping defenses at bay, however, has been easier said than done the past two years. Point production has suffered during that time.

Rodgers practices on the Packers' 100th
birthday, Aug. 11, 2019. (Eric Goska photo)
Rodgers has been sacked 71 times in 23 starts since 2017. On average, he’s been dumped once for every 12.75 dropbacks, a rate higher than his overall average (14.33) as a starter.

Furthermore, the team has been unable to overcome these setbacks as it once could. Too often possessions featuring a sack wind up going nowhere.

The 71 sacks Rodgers has endured since opening against the Seahawks in 2017 have been part of 60 drives. Those 60 drives yielded 63 points (1.05 per advance) and just four touchdowns (0.07 per advance).

Compare that to the nine years previous (2008-2016). In 303 drives featuring sacks of Rodgers, the team tallied 376 points (1.24) and 31 touchdowns (0.10).

At its peak, Green Bay’s offense treated sacks as mere speed bumps. The Packers of 2011 scored on 17 of 32 drives in which Rodgers was dumped (53 percent) and put up 75 points on those advances as they raced to a 15-1 record. They mounted touchdown drives of at least 70 yards on five of those occasions.

But that’s ancient history. In 2017 and 2018, seasons in which the team posted a combined record of 13-18-1, sacks were often deal-breakers. The Packers scored on just 15 of 60 drives that involved a Rodgers’ sack (25 percent), and posted just 63 points.

Only once during that time—in a 35-31 win at Dallas in 2017—did Green Bay travel more than 70 yards to a touchdown.

The NFL’s 100th season is right around the corner. What surprises does it hold for the league’s least-populous city?

As always, predicting the future can be tricky. But know this: with a new head coach and a new offensive approach, the Packers will be facing many changes in 2019. It would behoove them to ensure reducing the number of sacks allowed is one of them.

Sad Sacks
Passers who were sacked more than 75 times while playing for the Packers.

Player, Years                                No.     Yards Lost
Brett Favre, 1992-2007                 438         2,877
Aaron Rodgers, 2005-18               412         2,884
Bart Starr, 1956-71                        336         2,960
Tobin Rote, 1950-56                      164         1,290
Don Majkowski, 1987-92              159            911
David Whitehurst, 1977-83            99            738
Randy Wright, 1984-88                  85            603

Starless: The 1947 Pittsburgh Steelers

BOOK REVIEW
By John Turney
We love to promote football literature, especially historical NFL literature. Today we feature Steve Massey's ode to the 1947 Steelers. The book actually came out last Fall but we didn't get it read until recently.

Massey documents the team was didn't have a star player but was strong in the football ethic of unit cohesion. And despite the austerity of Jock Sutherland (who passed away soon after the 1947 season). The '47 iteration of the Steelers were the first playoff team in franchise history and the last great single-wing team.

Massey writes about the inception of the Steelers came to be and also coins a phrase called "Steelore" which is the long list of stories about the franchise. Some stories about Johnny Unitas that we've heard are true and in the case of Johnny Blood McNally, many are not accurate. The yarns are very interesting and mostly unknown to us.

The book also covers the 1946 season and the hiring of Jock Sutherland and the departure of Bill Dudley who feuded with Sutherland (the coach and de facto GM).  The 1946 season set the table for the 1947 success of the Steelers

Additionally, the book does a fine job of bios about the Steeler players who were very young (16 were 25 and under). There are detailed accounts of the games and what happened in each and some profiles of the NFL's major stars like Sammy Baugh. 

It's well done and a quick read (263 pages) with lots of new information and well-written prose. We highly recommend it. 

A link to buy the book is HERE.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Maybe We Were Wrong and Bo Was Right

OPINION
By John Turney
Maybe Bo Jackson was RIGHTYesterday we opined that Bo Jackson erred when he expressed a view that one had to have played football to give a valued opinion about Andrew Luck's retirement. Skip Bayless took a step back for non-players commenting on football this morning.

Skip Bayless stepped into it this morning with his rant about Aaron Donald not being worthy of being called the NFL's best player on some meaningless list. And to be fair, maybe no defender is as good or valuable as the best quarterbacks. But that is a topic for another day.
Bayless, a sickening Cowboys homer in our view but as a television baffoon, he serves his purpose—to create buzz and ratings for his employer.

Among his "points"was that "he'd" never need Donald "take over a game" like he saw Charles Haley or Reggie White or Lawrence Taylor do. Leaving aside Bayless picked three edge rushers (though White would move inside in the 46 defense and played some inside in base as well) while Donald is a three-technique, almost always aligning on or just outside the shoulder of a guard it just shows Bayless (and his staff) doe not do his homework.


In Lawrence Taylor's first five seasons he was a five-time All-Pro (though 1985 was iffy), five Pro Bowls and was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and totaled 50½ sacks.

Donald in his first five totaled 59.5 sacks and two Defensive Player of the Year Awards and was a four-time All-Pro and five Pro Bowls.

Charles Haley totaled 56.5 sacks in his first five years was All-Pro once and went to two Pro Bowls.

Reggie White blows all the competition away with his 81 sacks in his first five NFL seasons. He was a four-time All-Pro and won a Defensive Player Award in his first five seasons.

Bayless has always been a sketchy guy in terms of his opinions, some of them so off-the-wall you have to ask if he's playing a role, a guy who says silly things in order to create buzz for himself in order to further his career. But we've listed and read enough of his stuff, starting in the 1970s in the LA Times to think he actually believes some of what he spews. But we don't know what's in his heart.

We do know that if this kind of thing, the stuff he spoke today, is what's on his mind then it is easy to see why he no particularly liked in NFL circles (based on our conversations over the years with fans and writers, not to mention Troy Aikman's public comments about Bayless).

In this case, we think Aikman probably has it right. And maybe Bo was, too. Bayless, more or less, proves his point if Bayless is unable to see the rare player Donald is.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Bo Doesn't Know Free Speech or Media

OPINION
By John Turney
Bo knows football. Bo knows baseball. Nike made a great commercial showing Bo knew all sports. And maybe he did.

But does he know the First Amendment? Does he know free speech? Does he know logic?

Today, Bo Jackson Tweeted (verified account) this, "If you’ve never strapped on the pads you have no business commenting on something you know nothing about."

Well, of course, we get the obvious point and yes, Twitter is not a format known for complete thoughts and essays into subjects. So, we give Bo a break. But it does raise a question.

And to limit this to the NFL, is Bo suggesting those who didn't play on an NFL level "have no business commenting"? Or could you have strapped on pads in college and then be able to "have business commenting" on this kind of subject matter? What about high school? Pee Wee?

Jackson is saying something similar to what we've heard over the years from NFL players. Not all of them, of course, but some. It's the notion that sportswriters (and other media) don't know enough to comment on the NFL. And maybe they are right.

We've had conversations with people who want NFL players, especially Hall of Famers to have more of a voice when it comes to voting players into the Hall of Fame. And we get the sentiment. And there are some players who would be good at it (and there are two now, Dan Fouts and James Lofton).

However, we've spoken to Gold Jackets who have not followed the game for 2-, 30 or 40 years. We've asked the question to players "Who do you think should be in the HOF who is worthy?". We got a response from one player that was a bit odd. We later found out that the two were best friends and whose families vacationed together.

We've heard scores of stories of Gold Jackets pushing for their teammates, or guys they coached or drafted (in the case of the GMs who are now in the HOF). It can get partisan.

So, in our view, it's a poor idea. But still, Jackson's comments remain. At what level does someone have to have played to earn the right to comment on Luck's retirement?

Would Paul Zimmerman who played semi-pro ball qualify? What about Peter King? Rick Gosselin? Ira Miller? Or the late Bob Oates? Ira Miller? All these are in the writer's wing of the Hall of Fame and they have no business commenting in Jackson's view?

Can a man be a good OB/GYN? Can a woman be a fine urologist who treats both sexes? We will stop there before this gets into politics but you get the idea.

Is Jackson right? Are any of us qualified to write about the NFL? Are fans able to comment about Luck's decision?

It seems that it's okay if you respect Luck's decision but what triggered Bo's support of Aikman was Troy's response to Doug Gottlieb.
Gottlieb had a "hot take" that we don't agree with and neither did Aikman. And Aikman was a bit masty about it, and that's fine. All's fair on Twitter #LoveandWar. But Jackson took it to a higher level. We don't know Gottlieb's grid career but he played college ball and some minor league basketball but if he played in high school would be it okay with Bo for him to give his view?

Our view is all of us have big mouths. All of us comment on things we no little to nothing on whether it be politics, sports, dating, raising kids, you name it. But maybe Bo fits in that category as well.

Maybe Bo should respect people like the late Dr. Z or King, or Judge, or Miller, or Gosselin, of  Charean Williams. Men and women who have dedicated their careers to covering the NFL and who have brought us a lot of entertainment, insight, and opinion.

Right or wrong, whether they "strapped on the pads" or not they are qualified to report their views or to summarize the views of people who did wear the cleats who may or may not agree with Luck's decision. And they shouldn't me told they are "less" because they "didn't play the game".

Sure, coaches and players will have insights and knowledge no non-player will have, but it's not impossible to interview those coaches and players, to pick their brain and form lucid opinions. Humans are capable of that, Mr. Jackson. It's called learning and understanding and comprehending and then communicating. That's what media does. Yes, some media is better than others, some writers better than others just like some coaches and players are better than others.

And remember Bo—It's just football. It's not quantum mechanics and string theory. If you put your mind to it, you can understand it enough to comment. Just saying.


Milt Gantenbein 1966 NFL & Packers All-Time Team

LOOKING BACK
By Chris Willis, NFL Films

Milt Gantenbein played 10 years (1931-1940) with the Green Bay Packers and ranked #24 on PFJ Pre-WWII Ends list. He was a member of 3 Packers NFL Championship teams (1931, 1936, 1939) and was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1972. In 1966 (LaCrosse Tribune) he selected two all-time teams- his all-opponent team and an all-time Packers squad.

For his all-opponent team he selected: Bill Hewitt and Gaynell Tinsley at ends; "Wee" Willie Wilkin and "Bruiser" Kinard at tackles; Don  Fortmann and Ox Emerson at guards; Mel Hein at center; Sammy Baugh at quarterback; Byron "Whizzer" White and George McAfee at halfbacks; and Bronko Nagurski at fullback. This squad consisted of seven Hall of Famers and Emerson who should be in. Tinsley and White are not in the HOF but were members of the 1940s NFL All-Decade Team.


As for his all-time Packers team, he selected most of the usual suspects although he selected Bob Monnett over Verne Lewellen. Lavvie Dilweg and Don Hutson at ends; Cal Hubbard and Ernie Smith at tackles; Mike Michalske and Tiny Engebretson at guards; Nate Barager at center; Arnie Herber at quarterback; Johnny Blood and Bobby Monnett at halfback and Clarke Hinkle at fullback.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Report: Andrew Luck Retires from NFL

LOOKING AHEAD
By John Turney
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Andrew Luck retired from football at the age of 29. Presumably, it is due to the injuries he's suffered and perhaps the lack of being 100% physically. We will know more in the next few hours and days.

Oddly, Jim Brown and Gale Sayers also retired at age 30 and 29 and both of them were first-ballot Hall of Famers. Brown's last season was played when he was 29.

It will be interesting to see if Luck will get similar consideration. He missed 2017 due to injury and had a fine 2018 season. Here are, courtesy of Pro Football Reference his career stats:
He had three 30+ touchdown pass seasons and four 10+ win seasons. We would doubt he'd be elected in the first ballot but it's too early to say he'll not be the thrid Colt quarterback in the Hall of Fame.

We'll know in five years.

The Many Positions of Rich "Tombstone" Jackson

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
The late Paul Zimmerman was a big fan of Rich Jackson—he even advocated for Jackson's election to the Hall of Fame. However, interestingly, he never wrote about Jackson's penchant for being moved around in the Bronco front seven.

With the Raiders Jackson played linebacker but he arrived in Denver in 1967 and he was put at right defensive end. In 1968 he was moved to left defensive end as his usual position.

However, with four talented linemen, the Broncos would move their linemen around like chess pieces, putting Jackson at all four defensive line positions and at least two linebacker positions.
Jackson, in 1967 at right defensive end

At LDE, his usual position

At left defensive tackle

LDE, usual spot


Right defensive end, but goalline

at LDE, usual spot, but Alzado at RDT (usual RDE)

1967, at right end, his usual spot that season

In 1967, at right end

At left end, giving a strong head slap

1968 Jackson at linebacker just to the right and behind the nose tackle
 
1968 Jackson standing up over the left guard

1968 Jackson as a linebacker

Rich Jackson at LDT

Rich Jackson at RDT

Rich Jackson at Linebacker
Jackson dogging from LB spot
Jackson breaking free

Jackson, again at linebacker

Jackson at linebacker again
Jackson stepping back into coverage
Film study shows that Jackson moved around fairly often in 1968 playing most, if not all, line positions and most of the linebacker spots as well but not as much in 1969. However, from 1970-72 (until traded) he moved all along the line but if he played linebacker we didn't see it.

Still, we'd say he played his usual left defensive end 80% or so of the time with the rest at the right end or tackle with some snaps, as you see, as a linebacker who usually rushed, but did drop into coverage. he really was a  remarkable player.

Deacon on the Nose

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
The Rams defense under George Allen was pretty straightforward—a basic 4-3 defense with overshifts and undershifts and even fronts. There was some blitzing and of course, sub-packages, the nickel.

The Rams lineman didn't move around much, but again, it wasn't totally "vanilla" either. On occasion, they would employ special things. Above is one example of a 5-1 nickel defense (five defensive linemen, one linebacker and five defensive backs) with Deacon Jones playing over the center (not his usual left defensive end position).

Over the years we've seen Merlin Olsen play some right defensive end, Jones play some left defensive tackle with Olsen playing the left end. We're not sure if that was called for or if Jones and Olsen were just messing with people. But, if you watch enough film you can see these little things and appreciate the game of NFL football a little more than before.

Friday, August 23, 2019

The First African-American Battery—Marlin Briscoe and Buzz Highsmith

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
We are not sure who the first African-American player to snap in the NFL is. In the NFL's early days there were some black players and it's possible that someone played center in the 1920s, though if it happened it's never been noted.

That was followed by a shameful period when black players were banned from the NFL, a practice that ended in 1946 in both the NFL and the AAFC.

From that time until the 1960s we are unaware of any black players who played center. However, we do know that in 1965 Winston Hill, an excellent tackle for the AFL's New York jets was the backup center and in one game versus the Chargers the starter went down and Hill played the majority of the game at center.



In 1968 Walter "Buzz" Highsmith was the first African-American to start a game in the major leagues when he opened the game at center in the fourth game of the 1968 season. The quarterback for that game was Marlin Briscoe, the first quarterback to be a starter in the major leagues in modern history. Briscoe didn't start the opener, but he was the starter for the majority of the games. 

There were some black quarterbacks in the pre-modern era such as Fritz Pollard, Joe Lillard, George Taliaferro, Willie Thrower, and Charlie Brackins but only Pollard got real playing time. Taliaferro played tailback in a single wing and as such threw a lot, so in a sense he was the "passer" but Glen Dobbs got more playing time and threw more passes so we don't think he was the "starter".
Highsmith at Center, Briscoe at Quarterback
It was, however, Briscoe's first start that season and that, coupled with Highsmith, made them the first African-American battery (a stolen baseball term referring to the pitcher and catcher) in history. The fact that both were in their first-ever starts is also notable. 

It didn't last long. Briscoe struggled and was benched at the half and it seems Highsmith was, too. In the second half usually starting center Larry Kaminski was back at the pivot and Steve Tensi took on the quarterback duties.
Kaminski and Tensi battery versus Bengals, 1968
Sylvester Croom played one game and started it in 1975 for the Saints. Croom is best known as an NFL position coach and NCAA head coach. Croom started the opener on September 21, 1975 but was cut on the 23rd of September. Late in the season began his coaching career.

In 1981 there were two starting black centers, Ray Donaldson and Dwight Stephenson, however, Donaldson started all sixteen games and Stephenson started just five. (Both entered the NFL in 1980 but neither started a game as a rookie). So, Donaldson should rightly carry the title of the NFL's first African-American starting center, when "starting" is defined as starting the majority of the games for a given team.

Kevin Glover became the Lions starting center in 1987 and two years later Rodney Peete took over as the Lions signal-caller. We're confident this is the second African-American "battery" in league history. (Glover also started with Warren Moon in 1998 which, we think, would be the fourth tandum ever).

In 1988 Dermontti Dawson, as a rookie, started five games and was a starter the rest of his career. In 1997 when Kordell Stewart earned the starting quarterback position he and Dawson became the third-ever all African-American "battery".

Tony Mayberry became the Buccaneers center in 1991 and in 1999 he and Shaun King stated five games together and we think is the fifth pairing ever.

After that, we've not looked into the subject much so this is definitely not the definitive work on the subject so we may have missed some key details. We simply wanted to highlight Buzz and Marlin's accomplishments but it has raised some questions in our mind.

There have been over 100 black quarterbacks in the NFL (includes AFL/AAFC) but nothing near that in centers. The first starting black quarterback happened in 1968 and there were black starting quarterbacks in 1969, 1973-77, 1979-80 but it wasn't until 1981 when there was a starting center.

Honestly, we don't know how many black centers there have been in the NFL, it's not something we've tallied. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport reported that from 1999-14 that 13% to 31% of NFL centers were black in any given year. Eyeballing the data it seems that the average is around 20% in that span. But it does seem that center and kicker/punter (about 3% black) are positions that there are not many black participants. 

We do note that of the centers who are black, many have been great. Stephenson (the best ever) and Dawson are Hall of Famers. Ray Donaldson is not, but he's close to that level. Jason Brown was very good, Mayberry was a Pro Bowler.

On a personal note in the seven years, I coached semi-pro football we never had a white center. For five years it was one smart, tough kid, and when he hung 'em up he was replaced by a younger, bigger kid who was also the quarterback of our line, very smart.  It just begs the question, why so few black centers in the NFL? 

In this case, in this day and age, we find it's hard to believe it's pure racism, not that racism is 100% over, but teams want to win and coaches are going to play the best players in perhaps 99% of the cases. Maybe it's just moving good college centers to guard or tackle? Maybe it's too few black centers in high school in college... we don't know, we're just curious. Smarter minds than ours will eventually give is some answers.