Saturday, December 12, 2020

Michael Dean Perry—The Better and Forgotten Brother

 By John Turney 
Michael Dean's older brother, William "The Refrigerator" Perry, due to his size and charisma got far more attention than he did. Perry had size, charisma, and a coach that would play him a fullback on occasion.

However, the younger brother was the better NFL player. 
After being an All-American standout at Clemson University Perry was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the second round of the 1988 NFL Draft. He spent his rookie season as a nickel rusher and was an impact as a rookie, making all of the All-Rookie teams and totaling six sacks and four run stuffs and forced a pair of fumbles, recovered two (one for a touchdown). 

The Browns were basically a 3-4 team at first and Perry played end in that base scheme in camp and when he spelled starts but the Browns played a lot of the 46 Defense late in the season and Perry was a three-technique in that scheme and that allowed him to do his thing—get into the backfield. 

In 1989 he took over as the starting right defensive tackle and he was even my dynamic. He was voted the AFC Defensive Player of the Year by UPI and the Kansas City Committee of 101 and was a consensus All-Pro. 

The right tackle position meant that he didn't "flop" sides depending on the strength of the offensive formation. He did that later in his career but not generally with the Browns. It meant that if the tight end were to the offense's right and the Browns wanted to shit that way, Perry was a nose-tackle, slanted on the center. If they wanted to shift away he'd be a three-technique. He didn't get the opportunity to always play the three-technique like some of his contemporaries like Keith Millard and John Randle or later Warren Sapp or even current three-technique Aaron Donald.
Perry in an overshift with Perry as a tilted nose tackle

Perry is a three-technique here, on outside shoulder of the left guard
Still, Perry's forte was getting into the backfield and tackling runners for losses and in 1989 he totaled 11.5 stuffs and seven sacks and batted away seven passes. According to PFJ's Nick Webster, his stuff total was good for third in the NFL. 

In 1990 he was again consensus All-Pro and had a remarkable 11.5 stuffs and 11.5 sacks, a total of 23 plays behind the line of scrimmage while totaling a career-high 86 tackles. For younger fans, these are Aaron Donald-type numbers. His rare quickness (said Perry, "quickness is my best asset, it is not something you learn. It's God-given") for an interior defensive lineman and great anticipation allowed him to penetrate the line of scrimmage and make plays.

After one game his coach, Bud Carson, said "He's reached another dimension". 

He did this getting plenty of double teams as well—
Dean getting doubled, with the guard going high and the tackle going low

In his seven-year peak (1989-95), Perry averaged 10½ stuffs and 7½ sacks for 18 plays for losses. Trust us, that's a great number for such a long span. 

In 1991 Perry held out, wanting a raise from his rookie contract and the Browns took a step forward with the hiring of Bill Belichick and Dean again played well, even in a new scheme, a run-stopping defense, though not the 3-4 he ran in New York. It required gap discipline and didn't allow Perry the freedom to penetrate as he had in Carson's one-gap scheme. 

However, the Belichick scheme didn't limit him in terms of his production. In 1991 he had 10.5 stuffs tied for sixth in the NFL according to Webster. His total dipped in 1992 (has knee surgery in August)  but in 1993 he had a career-high of 14.0 stuffs, good for third in the NFL.

However, he was never able to get double-digit sacks as he did in 1990.  Said Perry, "anyone—offensive or defensively—wants to play in a scheme where they are used properly. Don't take away my attributes, that is getting off the ball penetrate cause chaos and make plays".

There were some exceptions, however. In 1993 the Browns signed Jerry Ball and he played 16 games, starting seven. When he was in the game he took the nose and Perry got to "flop" to three-technique—putting him in a position to not be double-teamed as much and in an ideal spot to rush the passer.

The Browns and Perry marriage ended in 1995 when Perry signed with the Broncos. The Browns left Perry unprotected in the NFL expansion draft but he signed with the Broncos signed a three-year $7.2 million with Denver which took him off the expansion list. We are not sure of the niceties of that, but the papers at the time mentioned that it did. 
There he finally played the three-technique full time, always on the outside of the guard, not playing there sometimes and over the center sometimes—it was likely his natural position. He responded with a good season with 8.5 stuffs and 6 stuffs and was voted Second-team All-AFC by UPI voters. 

Late in 1997, it seems Perry ran out of gas. In December the Broncos cut him due to his health and lack of production. Perry's knees were bothersome more in 1997 than in the past. He was inactive for a good stretch of the season and that frustrated Perry. He eventually told the team he didn't want to remain a Bronco if he wasn't active on game day. So, really, Perry cut himself. A few days later the Chiefs signed him to fill in at the end of the season but not playing much. He played in one game and made one tackle with the Chiefs and didn't play in the playoff matchup with the Broncos.

Film study shows a short, low center of gravity guy with tremendous quickness—among the quickest off the ball we've ever seen. He was able to get his body in front of a center or guard on the play side and if those guys tried to get a quick jump into the hole, Perry would just "backdoor it", getting behind the linemen and make a tackle for loss from the backside. 

Still, Perry has never gotten any Hall of Fame traction and this is Perry's last season to make the modern list and if he does not make the Hall this year he falls into the senior's abyss (so-called because there are so many players there and only one per year makes it out). 

In his career, he was All-Pro five times (two consensus) and received post-season honors in eight of his seasons, including Pro Bowls and All-AFC selections.

We don't expect Perry to make that semi-finalist list and therefore won't make the Hall, but he at least should be discussed. Based on his ability to both stop the run and et after the quarterback is evident in his stats and he was respected by his peers, making the Sporting News or NEA All-Pro team(chosen by players and coaches) five straight years (1989-93). The media (AP, PFWA), on the other hand, only picked him in 1989 and 1990. 

Stats

Honors
Perry was inducted in the South Carolina Football Hall of Fame in 2016 and previously, in 2002, Perry was named to the 50th Anniversary All-ACC Team. He is also in the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame and the state of South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame.

Maybe someday the College Football and Pro Football Hall of Fame will come knocking. 

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