Sunday, August 30, 2020

Awards You Need To Know About—The PFWA Jack Horrigan Award

 By John Turney

The Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) has perhaps a handful of awards that go players or others for off-the-field achievements. To us, these awards help tell the story of the NFL and too little (in our view) attention.

The PFWA, the Hall of Fame, NFL Alumni and other organizations contribute toe h mosaic of the NFL in terms of "honors" and rather than try and shoe-horn everyone into the Hall of Fame, advocates and fans of certain players or coaches or contributors need to educate themselves of the existence of these kinds of awards so they could, perhaps, see "their guy" deserves an award rather than induction into the Hall of Fame on the thinnest of resumes.

JACK HORRIGAN AWARD

Colts GM Chris Ballard 
The PFWA’s Jack Horrigan Award is given to the  league or club official for his or her qualities and

professional style in helping the pro football writers do their job.

NOTE: Year indicates when the award was presented for the previous season so Chris Ballard's award is for the 2019 season and voted on my the membership of a PFWA after the season and is award them

If it were our listing we'd use "2019" rather than "2020" for Ballard but here we present them as the PFWA does

WINNERS

1973 — John Breen, Houston Oilers
1974 — O.J. Simpson, Buffalo Bills
1975 — Art Rooney, Pittsburgh Steelers
1976 — Floyd Little, Denver Broncos
1977 — Jerry Wynn, San Diego Chargers
1978 — Bob Peck, Denver Broncos
1979 — John Madden, Oakland Raiders
1980 — Bum Phillips, Houston Oilers
1981 — Bob Sprenger, Kansas City Chiefs
1982 — Joe Gordon, Pittsburgh Steelers
1983 — Archie Manning, New Orleans Saints/Houston Oilers
1984 — Art Rooney, Pittsburgh Steelers
1985 — Joe Browne, NFL
1986 — Dick Steinberg, New England Patriots
1987 — Charlie Dayton, Atlanta Falcons
1988 — Art Modell, Cleveland Browns
1989 — Tom Landry, Dallas Cowboys
1990 — George Young, New York Giants
1991 — Jim Finks, New Orleans Saints
1992 — John Robinson, Los Angeles Rams
1993 — Warren Moon, Houston Oilers
1994 — Don Shula, Miami Dolphins
1995 — Leslie Hammond. NFL
1996 — Ron Wolf, Green Bay Packers
1997 — Don Smith, Pro Football Hall of Fame
1998 — Tony Dungy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1999 — Greg Aiello, NFL
2000 — Ernie Accorsi, New York Giants
2001 — Jeff Fisher, Tennessee Titans
2002 — Charley Casserly, Houston Texans
2003 — Herman Edwards, New York Jets
2004 — Ozzie Newsome, Baltimore Ravens
2005 — Rich McKay, Atlanta Falcons
2006 — Floyd Reese, Tennessee Titans
2007 — Steve Alic, NFL
2008 — Mike Holmgren, Seattle Seahawks
2009 — Dan Rooney, Pittsburgh Steelers
2010 — Gil Brandt, NFL.com
2011 — Rex Ryan, New York Jets
2012 — Thomas Dimitroff, Atlanta Falcons
2013 — Mike Signora, NFL
2014 — Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
2015 — Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals
2016 — John Elway, Denver Broncos
2017 — Mike Mayock, NFL Network
2018 — Randall Liu, NFL
2019 — Joe Horrigan, Pro Football Hall of Fame
2020 — Chris Ballard, Indianapolis Colts

Most of the winners are GM-types but some are coaches or even players but all were the type to talk to the media and would aide the writers in getting stories out to the fans. 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

How About Another Career Worthy Remembering? Mike Wilcher—One Fine Linebacker

 By John Turney

Recently we've been outlining the careers of players who were really good, who did a lot of things and didn't pile up tons of honors or stats because they played so many roles. 

Today is yet another player who fits that mold—Mike Wilcher.

Wilcher replaced Lawrence Taylor at the University of North Carolina and put up impressive numbers. He wasn't as big or fast as L.T. and teams looking for a rushing linebacker were hoping he could do the same in the NFL.  Wilcher recorded 68 tackles his senior season and totaled 20 tackles for loss in his junior and senior seasons combined. 

Wilcher showing a little athleticism. Credit: UNC SID 

Well, Wilcher couldn't be the next Lawrence Taylor. No one could, L.T. was just too special and rare for others to duplicate. But just because he wasn't the "next L.T." does not mean he didn't do some special things in the NFL, which he will outline. 

Wilcher was 6-3, 238, and ran a 4.73 forty going into the 1983 NFL Draft. The Rams switched to a 3-4 defense that season and were looking for an outside linebacker who could get to the passer and though Wilcher would be a good one.

They took him near the top of the second-round and that first season he was part of a fine special teams unit while learning the nuances of the NFL 3-4 defense Fritz Shurmur ran.

In 1984 he got his break when starting right outside linebacker George Andrews hurt at the three-quarter mark of the season and Wilcher was ready to step in, starting the final five games. Wilcher, though, John Robison felt, needed to get meaner. "He's still calling Jack Youngblood, "Mr. Youngblood" Robinson told the media. 

Andrews tried to come back in 1985 but his knee would not cooperate and the ROLB job was Wilcher's and he held it through 1990 and did a quality job each year. 

In 1985 Wilcher was really an unsung hero on the defense that took the Rams to the NFC Championship game. He was not only a fine rusher (12.5 sacks) but he eventually was the Rams nickel and dime linebacker that year and held that position through 1990. What that meant was he did a good enough job in coverage to not just be a rusher on third down, sometimes he'd cover a back or tight end.

Wilcher in his usual position (ROLB) in the Rams base 3-4 defense 

Wilcher as lone LBer in nickel. Vince Newsome, safety is the other "linebacker" 


Wilcher as one of two linebackers in a 3-2-6 

Wilcher as the lone linebacker (over the TE) in a 4-1-6 defense

What Wilcher proved was he understood the nickel/dime concepts and Fritz Shurmur could use him as a blitzer or as a cover linebacker in either zone or man. Some rush backers of that era just became a defensive end in nickel with never a thought given to allowing them to be what is now called a "rover" or "joker" in sub defenses. Wilcher would often stand up and be a defensive end, but more often that not he was too valuable to do only that in sub defenses.

Here are his career stats—

Chart Credit: PFJ 
The scheme remained basically the same for the Rams from 1985-87, though there were some wrinkles but Wicher's job was as the ROLB in the base and as a linebacker in the nickel and dime situations.

Fritz Shurmur ran a fairly "vanilla" defense from 1983-87, not blitzing a ton, but some. It was a so-called "bend-but-don't-break" defense, focusing on playing tough, keeping plays in front of them, not allowing deep passes and believing that teams could not put together a lot fo 10, 12-play drives, that someone in that series the solid tackling and discipline zones would cause teams to make mistakes and have to punt. 
Here is a dime defense with Wilcher (and Greene) as the two-point DEs

In 1988, though, there was a new emphasis. There were injuries on the defensive line and as a result, the Rams had to use a new concept at times and it worked so well, they began to use it a lot. The concept was the "Eagle" defense that could stem or shift to what they called the "Hawk" defense.

Now, this scheme had been in the Rams playbooks since 1983 when Shurmur arrived, but in this case of 1988 the Rams deployed five linebackers in the scheme because he had versatile linebackers who could do more than one thing. Wilcher was one of those, as was Kevin Greene and Fred Strickland and Mark Jerue as well.

In short, the "Eagle" defense is the same as the Bears 46 defense but in the late-1980s Shurmer had a "nosebacker" either Strickland or Jerue replace the starting base nose (Alvin Wright) and that player—both linebackers with some training as defensive linemen could play over the nose on a play or they could "stem" or shift to am inside linebacker position and that shift was called the "Hawk".

The Rams were so well-coached that they could use that defense quite often and the eight-man front aspect made it tough to run and the skills of the outside rushers (Greene and Wilcher) made it effective against passing plays as well. It was a small, smart, well-disciplined group and they made it work ver well.

The Rams didn't abandon their sub-schemes (nickel and dime) wither. They stayed with those and in that scheme they often used just two defensive linemen, the tackles. The defensive ends were often Kevin Greene and Mike Wilcher. Or sometimes Brett Faryniarz would play right end and Wilcher would be the nickel linebacker. It was changed often and gave offenses different looks.

There were even times in 1989 when there was a second-type of a "five-linebacker defense", one other than the Eagle/Hawk. And that was simply a dime defense (or could be nickel with a safety playing a linebacker spot) that had five linebackers as the defensive line and Wilcher as the "joker" or "rover" if you will—sometimes rushing, sometimes in coverage. 

In 1989 Gary Jeter left to New England in Plan B free agency and Bill Hawkins took his spot. Hawkins was never going to be able to match Jeter's production and Fred Strickland had shown he could play defensive tackle and get a good rush, so there were times he was a defensive tackle in nickel. And when Bill Hawkins was out or wasn't quite what he needed to be the Rams would play George Bethune as a defensive tackle. Faryniarz was usually the right end and Kevin Greene the left defensive end.

The Rams rose those defense schemes to the NFC Championship game (and like 1985 they got blown out). Nonetheless, they got further with less than many people thought a gimmick defense could take them. 

Here are some examples of what we are describing—
A 3-4 with Wilcher putting a hand down, making it a 4-3 over in actuality (also safety walked up)

Eagle


Five linebacker defense, this time with Wilcher "mugging" and Strickland back on second level



Six DBs, Wilcher lined up as a three-technique here, he could rush or drop

Sub defense-6 DBs—Wilcher could blitz, or blitz-peel and cover RB or drop to zone

Dime, Wilcher the lone LBer, up front are a DT and three LBers manning the 4-man line

This is the Eagle defense, if the nose droped to ILB, it would be "Hawk"

This is the Hawk. Strickland "steming" from nose tackle

Finally, here is the 3-4 base 
Here is 6 DBs with Wilcher covering the slot 

In 1990 the team suffered some losses and for whatever reason, Fritz Shurmur got the blame. John Robinson, some said to save his own skin, hire Jeff Fisher to bring in his 46 defense and the base 3-4 was out. It was going to be a 4-3 with an emphasis on Bears frons in 1991. 

That left no position for Wilcher. He'd never played in a 4-3 defense and was cut in August by the Rams. Head coach John Robinson said, "We'd love to have a young Mike Wilcher playing in this scheme. He would be an impact player for us".

A few days late Wilcher was signed by the Chargers but was cut in early September, playing just two games for them and that was the last of Wilcher's NFL career. 

So, when a fan might see that Wilcher only had 38.5 career sacks they may not be impressed. But what they may not have considered is that Wilcher was just more than a rusher. We've shown he was a solid 3-4 base linebacker, couple play defensive end, and was a rushbacker who could play inside in sub defenses and do it on very successful defensive units. 

In 1988 and 1989 Proscout, Inc. ranked him as a top 5 "COB" their term for a combined outside 'backer or hybrid linebacker/linemen and in 1985 he wasn't a Pro Bowler, but certainly had a season worthy of it. 

In today's NFL, Wilcher skill set would fit nicely—linebacker with his size who could play base defense well, rush over a tackle or blitz and beat a running back with a rush and who also can cover well enough to be on the field all three downs perhaps something like Clay Matthews III would be an apt comparable. 

Nonetheless, when you see th name "Mike Wilcher" most of you will know a little more about him than you did before. If that is true, we did our job. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Freddie Joe Nunn—Yet Another Solid Career . . . With Some Serious Off-Field Issues

 By John Turney

As we've posted before there are really good players who don't get a lot of mention years after they retired. Some players vie for Hall of Fame slots, others are what might be called "Hall of Very Good" players but some are just good players who didn't gain many accolades.

Freddie Joe Nunn is one of those. He was a fine athlete that got bounced around from linebacker to defensive end to linebacker and back to defensive end.

Nunn was mostly a defensive end at the Univerity of Mississippi where he totaled 301 tackles with 123 of them coming as a senior. His "measurables" for the NFL Draft were 6-4, 233 pounds but he ran a 4.5 forty yard dash thus he was small for a defensive end.

The St. Louis Cardinals, one of only four teams in 1985 that were going to play a 4-3 defense selected Nunn in the first round (18th overall) of the 1985 NFL Draft. 

As a rookie, he won the starting weakside linebacker position meaning he was usually stacked behind the line of scrimmage and flowed to the ball since the Cardinals almost exclusively played an "under" front defense. Nunn was a good enough athlete but that position left him off the field in nickel/dime situations.

In 1986 the Cardinals switched to a 3-4 defense and this moved Nunn to the left outside linebacker position and in nickel allowed him to be the left defensive end with Al "Bubba" Baker the right end in sub defenses.

The following season, 1987, brought a change back to the 4-3 defense and Nunn, now 260 pounds was the left defensive end for the next four seasons even making Second-team All-NFC in 1988. Those four seasons Nunn averaged 45 tackles and ten sacks and five stuffs.

In 1991 Fritz Shurmur was hired by Joe Bugel to replace Joe Pascale as the Cardinals defensive coordinator. With Shurmur came a 3-4 scheme putting Nunn back as the left outside linebacker in the base defense and also left end in the nickel. 

His first season back as the left outside 'baker he totaled 63 tackles with 7 sacks and 7 stuffs and forced six fumbles. In 1992 he injured his knee and missed five games, the first time he'd missed time other than the 1987 strike games and a four-game suspension in 1989 for violation of the NFL's drug policy.

In 1993 Shurmer moved more to his "Big Nickel" scheme that they used more than their base. It was four defensive linemen and two linebackers and a safety playing one of the linebacker positions who and that player could also play the slot. Shurmur used it in 1992 as well, but much more in 1993.

In this scheme, Nunn flopped sides, always player the weak defensive end rather than staying on one side. The idea was to not have Nunn deal with the tight end side and would free him from getting chipped and thus allowing him freer access to the quarterback. He started ten games and was a nickel rusher in the other six and had 6.5 sacks with three forced fumbles on the year.

Nunn also began to have legal issues. In May of 1993, he was involved with a standoff with police in Phoenix and barricaded himself in his home in a 4½ hour saga in which he finally surrendered and was charged with misdemeanor assault. At the time he had two other charges pending involving misdemeanor assaults in tow other cases in the Phoenix area.

In May of 1994, when he was a free agent, Nunn was held in a fatal shooting case in his native Mississippi. According to reports, a manager of a convenience store came out of his establishment with a gun attempting to break up a crowd that had gathered outside. The manager and Nunn both fired, though reports didn't confirm who fired first. Nunn reportedly told police he had fired his gun in self-defense. 

The day after his arrest he was released by authorities and three months later a federal grand jury returned no true bill, essentially finding that the shoot was justified or there was no evidence that it was anything other the self-defensive shooting as Nunn said it was.

However, a couple of weeks before that there was this incident—

A month later Scottsdale police said no charges were being recommended. 

In September the Indianapolis Colts were hit with injuries on the defensive line and signed Nunn and Al Noga to fill those holes. Nunn started at left end in Indianapolis and was used as a nickel rusher as well an got his first taste of NFL postseason action as well.  

The Colts saw enough that they signed him to another one-year deal in 1995 and that season he was a handy backup before he had a hamstring injury. In 1996 the Colts brought Nunn back for another season and it seems the Indiana media had taken a liking to Nunn who was paired with Richard Dent in passing situations in the preseason and early in the year. —

After four games in 1996 though Nunn was cut, then re-signed, then cut again then resigned but he never saw game action after those first four games. Dent, though had a good year as a nickel rusher playing all 16 games and making 15 tackles, 6.5 sacks, forced two fumbles, and even scored a safety, so that half of the "Defensive of the Ages" worked out well.

The troubles for Nunn didn't stop after his career. In 2001 he was pulled over by a Texas state trooper over for a routine traffic stop and found 400 grams of cocaine in his car back in 2001. Trial evidence included that Troopers found Nunn had "30 pounds of cocaine valued between $600,000 and $1 million hidden under a false floor." Additionally, an FBI agent testified about a lengthy investigation of a drug-trafficking ring Nunn was linked to.

Seven years later, in 2008 a Gray County jury found Freddie Joe Nunn guilty on charges of possession of a controlled substance. and was then sentenced 20 years in prison on drug trafficking charges.

Nunn did appeal but the appeals court upheld the conviction.

One has to wonder if Nunn wouldn't have made more NFL noise if he had just been put at defensive end and left there, without all the moving around. We will never know, but nonetheless, Nunn was a fine player who yes, deserves credit for a career worth mentioning. 

Yes, a flawed individual (as many were and he has/is paying for that as he should) he did produce in the NFL in a variety of schemes and it is only fair to take a look back once-in-a-while. 

Another Worthy Career (Football Wise—Off-The-Field? Not So Much)—Chip Banks

 By John Turney

In 1981 Lawrence Taylor took the NFL world by storm, winning All-Pro honors, Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and the AP Defensive Player of the Year Award while playing a big role in the Giants getting to the playoffs for the first time in forever.

In the 1982 NFL Draft Chip Banks became a coveted target because he was said to possess the same skills as Taylor—of so it was thought.

The Cleveland Browns took him with the third overall pick Banks was, like Taylor, awarded the NFL Rookie of the Year Award and was a  Pro Bowler.

He played the left side of the defense, and sometimes had more coverage responsibilities, but though Banks was not in the L.T. class he was a valuable player who had a fine career.

He was a consensus All-Pro in 1983 and went to the Pro Bowl his four of his first five seasons. He was 6-4, 235 (coming out of school), and ran a 4.65 forty.

As a freshman in 1978, Banks made 45 tackles as USC secured a national title. The next year he led the team with 12 tackles for loss and helping the Trojans to a second-straight Rose Bowl victory. In 1980  he led the Trojans in tackles and tackles for loss and in 1981 he totaled 137 tackles while making most All-American teams.

However, Banks developed a reputation as someone who wanted special treatment. The LA Times put it this way—

Chart credit: PFJ








In 1985 Banks was traded to the Bills for the rights to Bernie Kosar but Banks refused to report and the Browns had to give up a first-rounder to replace him. Banks told the clubs he'd "rather retire" than play in Buffalo.

Banks had two more Pro Bowl seasons and again, the Browns traded him. In April 1987 the Brown sent Banks to the Chargers with a swap for first- and second-round picks by the two clubs. The Browns sent late-round picks (#24 overall and #53 overall) plus Banks to the Chargers and in return received the #5 overall and the #32 overall. Using today's NFL Draft Value Chart that means Banks was valued as a high first-round (in the #12 to #14 overall range).

In San Diego Banks paired with Billy Ray Smith who was the left outside linebacker. This meant Banks had to be moved to the weak side for the first time in his career and he played well enough but didn't seem to generate the pass rush the Chargers desired. He was voted (along with Smith) Second-team All-AFC.

But in 1988 Banks held out demanding a $300,000 reporting bonus for the 1990 season, even though ti was not part of his contract. Banks told the Chargers if he didn't get traded he'd retire.

Charger owner Dean Spanos drew a line in the sand and in August 1988 issued a statement—

So, as a result, Banks didn't report and sat out the 1988 season. In the meantime Banks got into trouble with the law, being arrested more than once for possession of illegal drugs and then in January 1989 was arrested with and other more serious charges. 

Banks pleaded guilty to the drug charges and was placed on five-year probation. 

Spanos had seen enough (three drug-related arrests in five months) and tried to trade Banks. A fourth arrest in June 1989 further inflamed the matter. In October a Fulton County (GA) judge sentenced Banks in the last arrest to play a fine fo 10% or his salary over the next three years and 5% of his salary for the two years after that to drug rehab programs in Atlanta. 

The NFL gave Banks a "second strike" in their discipline program (a third strike would have resulted in a lifetime ban) and in late October Banks was traded to the Colts where he secured a starting job in his second week in Indianapolis. It was a conditional trade and the Colts had the option of giving the Chargers a 1990 third-round choice or a 1991 second-round pick. The Colts chose to keep the 1991 pick and send the 1990 third-rounder to the Chargers for Banks.

Fortunately for Banks there neve was that "third strike". In fact, he was a solid ballplayer for his last four years in Indianapolis. In 1990 he started all 16 games and led the NFL with 13 run/pass stuffs (tackles for loss) as a strong-side 'backer for the Colts. 

Banks was hurt in 1991 with a sprained knee and that season was not without drama. In October Banks was pulled over on a traffic stop and the police found a warrant that should have been canceled and arrested him. He spent 5½ hours in jail but was released when it was found the Georga judge on his previous case failed to cancel the warrant.

In 1992 Banks had a good final season with 9 sacks and five stuffs. He was posed to play again in 1993 but he injured a shoulder and was placed on injured reserve.

In March 1994 the Colts released Banks and that was the end of his football career. But not the end of his off-the-field drama.

In June of 1994 this occurred—

Two weeks ago Banks was shot in Atlanta. Banks was reported to be in "serious" condition but is  "improving" according to recent media releases. 

So, while his off-the-field efforts are not what one might call "worthy" on the field he did some great things. Five times he was Second-team All-AFC or higher in the "honors" category in 1990 and 1992 he was on a Pro Bowl level in terms of production. 

So, while if he had made better choices dealing with his addiction disease he might have been even more productive, but all humans make mistakes, and as Rick James said "Cocaine is a helluva drug". 

We wish Banks the best in his recovery and recognize he was a very good player for most of his career.  He was rangy and could run and had long arms, useful in a pass rush and in coverage. He was usually over the tight end and could jam or cover those players. Had be been asked to rush all the time he would have totally many more sacks but he had to do several things (mich like Billy Ray Smith who we posted on yesterday). He was a complete 3-4 backer who cared about getting into the backfield and tacking a running back as much as pinning his ears back and going after the quarterback. 

Get well soon Mr. Banks. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Billy Ray Smith—A Worthy Career

 By John Turney

Billy Ray Smith 

Billy Ray Smith, Jr. was the son of a fine NFL defensive tackle, Billy Ray Smith Sr. but he was one of those good players who sometimes doesn't get remembered as often as he should

Smith was selected fifth overall in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers. He was one of those athletes who tested well physically in terms of what was then known as "triangle numbers"—size, strength, and speed. For that era, he was a good-sized outside linebacker with good speed:  6-3, 242, 4.65- forty but also had brains (reportedly tested by one NFL team as having a 120 I.Q.)

At the University of  Arkansas, Smith was a two-time consensus All-American selection (1981-82) as a defensive end (he began as a linebacker at Fayetteville) and finished his career with 299 total tackles with 63 going for losses). 

In the NFL Smith was moved to inside linebacker then to outside linebacker. 

Here is Smith at LDE in a long-yardage situation in 1983 versus Washington. The interior line is in an "Eagle" front and this presents, essentially a five-man defensive line.

This is Billy Ray in his usually strong-side inside linebacker in the Charger 3-4 scheme.

Again, here in 1985, Smith in the Charger base 3-4 at the strong (Mike) inside linebacker spot.

Smith was a solid player inside (usually he was first- or second in tackles on the Charger defense) but it was 1986 when he moved to a more natural position that he began to really shine. 

Chart credit: PFJ 









In 1986 Smith moved to left outside linebacker and additionally, the Chargers played quite a bit of "Bear" fronts, even on third downs meaning rookie phenom Leslie O'Neal would play over a guard and Smith and right outside linebacker Fred Robinson would provide the outside rush. 

Other times Smith might played LDE in the "Bear" or even the nickel regardless Smith got to play fast and loose and do what he did in college-—get after the passer and if a run play "showed" he'd stuff it or chase it down from the backside. 

In 1986, in addition to his 11 sacks, (second in NFL among linebackers behnd Lawrence Taylor) also he caught runners behind the line of scrimmage 15 times—The most in the NFL. 

That "run/pass stuff" is not official just like pre-1982 sacks are not official, but since the early 1990s Stats, LLC., has tracked tackles of running backs for losses. We at Pro Football Journal  (mostly Nick Webster) have taken that category back to the 1980s and in some cases before. So, we know that Smith led the NFL and with his 11 sacks, it makes 22 so-called "tackles for loss"  as the NFL now calls them. Why not 26 you ask? Because if a fumble is forced then that player does not get credit for the tackle for loss, only on sacks when the quarterback does not fumble. (Don't ask us, it's not a really reliable stat).

Smith didn't get to the Pro Bowl in 1986 but likely should have, maybe even should have been All-Pro is was that good of a year. (he was a first alternate to the Pro Bowl and was an alternate in 1987 as well)

In 1987 (after a holdout and then signing a new contract) it was interesting to watch the Chargers defense because Smith dropped more into coverage than in 1986 and in this case, the stats showed it—his sack dropped from 11.0 to 3.0 but he went from no interceptions to five, the most by any NFL linebacker that year and also led the Chargers squad in picks.

Essentially Billy Ray went from being a  Lawrence Taylor/Andre Tippett-type linebacker in 1986 to a Wilbur Marshall/Seth Joyner/William Thomas-type linebacker in 1987. It was odd to see back-to-back seasons with such extremes in responsibilities by the same player in the same defense with the same defensive coordinator. They did play more 4-3 in 1987 than in 1986 and that accounts for some of that difference.

Smith had a calf injury in 1988 early and then at midseason, he had a hairline fracture of a fibula and missed the rest of the season. He'd been moved to the weak side and with the Chargers still mixing in a lot fo 4-3 looks with the 3-4 he often was the "Will" 'backer as seen here—

This is just another example of the various ways Smith was deployed in his career—Sam, Will, stand-up defensive end, nickel end, inside linebacker he was a Jack of all linebacker trades. 

He came back in 1989 was returned to the left side where he was usually on the tight end side and was a Second-team ALl-Pro by NEA as a reward for his fine season. 

Here is a shot from 1989 with Chargers in a 4-3 (O'Neal is at LDE with a hand down) and Smith is the strong-side 'backer.

However, in the 1990s injuries caught up with him and his career was over in short order—playing just one game in 1992 and starting just 3 games the year before and missing a handful of games in 1990 with a serious abdominal strain.

In 1991, though, Smith had one final excellent game versus the Saints, earning him the AFC Defensive Player of the Week award for the second time in his career (he'd won that in week one of 1986) with a pick and a fumble recovery. But he was mostly a backup to Henry Rolling, the new strong-side linebacker. 

In August of 1992, Smith was again battling muscle pulls (as he had in 1988, 1990, and 1991) but when he was healthy he played well in preseason and impressed new head coach Bobby Ross and defensive coordinator (who had coaches Smith's father in Baltimore) who said they planned to keep Billy Ray on the roster as a backup to Henry Rolling and the new superstar Will—Junior Seau. 

However, his body couldn't answer the bell. In February 1993, Smith hung 'em up. 

In today's NFL Smith would be quite a player because of his variety of skills. He could play base 3-4 or 4-3 defenses, either inside or outside (strong or weak), and could also put his hand in the dirt and rush the edge.

Since he played all those his stats don't have terrific totals in any particular category, had he been a rusher his whole career he could have been an excellent one, had he played coverage his pick total would be high. i.e. he should he could have great totals in either when called upon.

Certainly, he's not a Hall of Famer, that should be reserved by players who have amassed decent totals of All-pros and Pro Bowls, have left an impressive statistical trail, looks great on film, and has some impressive intangibles. Smith has the latter two but the stats and honors lack.

Nonetheless, the NFL is full of great players who are not quite HOFer, but should be remembered fondly anyway and we do remember his game fondly.

He was a helluva football player. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Bill Nunn—The Kind of Candidate the HOF "Contributor" Category Was Made For

 By John Turney

Bill Nunn
Earlier today Bull Nunn was chosen by the Hall of Famer Contributor committee as the 2021 nominee for the Hall of Fame. He is a solid and worthy choice and in your view will be elected come February when the voting committee as a whole meets. No worries, he's a lock for induction—he WILL receive 80% of the votes by the 48-member selection committee.

Nunn is the kind of person that was ideally supposed to be a beneficiary of the contributor category and it's heartening to see him get the nod. 

Other contributors elected to the Hall of Fame since 2015 are Bill Polian, Ron Wolf, Edward DeBartolo Jr., Jerry Jones, Bobby Beathard, Pat Bowlen, Gil Brandt, Steve Sabol, Paul Tagliabue, and George Young.

Of the previous ten inductees, three are owners (ironically all are or were or have family members on the Hall of Fame Board of Trustees) and five were GM-types and one was a former commissioner (whose protege sits on the HOF board) and one was NFL Films icon, Steve Sabol. 

Nunn was not in any of those categories, he was a tremendously successful and scout who was also a pioneer. He will be the first person of color inducted from that committee (now in its seventh year of existence). 

When the contributor committee was formed some feared that it was just s simply entre to the Hall of Fame for recent owners (not old school owners like Bud Adams, Art Modell, or Carrol Rosenbloom) and since Robert Kraft got himself into some off-field controversy his "slot" has been moved back a few years, in our view, which allows for the kind of candidate that fits ideally—Nunn being one.

Seymour Siwoff of Elias Sports Bureau, NFL Head of Officials Art McNally, Proscout, Inc.'s Mike Giddings, Eddie Kotal, Bucko Kilroy, and others also, in our view "fit the bill" as well as Nunn.

The contributor committee got it ran and deserves praise. 

Well done. 

NFL Colorization of the Day—1939 Chicago Bears Wearing World's Fair Jackets

 By John Turney



Sunday, August 23, 2020

Rams New Kits Under the SoFi Lights

 By John Turney

Click to enlarge

Here are some shots of the Rams uniforms from their first appearance on SoFi Stadium with some commentary. 

Color of blue is bright, the horns cut off


Uniforms look better without gradient

That "Sol" color does not look yellow or "sun-like" Looks greenish

Bone is supposed to be a "warm light grey" Appears to be a cool, dull grey on HD Video.


However, digital photography shows it to be a warm light grey—so this one matches the intent

Blue is bright, but less metallic than outdoors

The color of the helmet changes with lighting, which is interesting


Again, the cool dull grey, that tints a bit green 
Uniform, as is, with gradient numerals 

Same uniform, but with no gradients 

More color testing---using Photoshop.—




These "bone" shots look more of the greenish grey scale—




The light grey may be picking up the color of the turf giving a green tint.

Is this the actual color chart? Sure seems like it. 

And here are a couple more "as is" shots and the gradients taken out—



People can make up their own minds, but this remains a hot topic of conversation among Rams fans—months, even, after the rebrand was released.


However, there were some positive comments.  We are Estimating about 10-20% based on studying all the polls and posts by uniform aficionados. At best.