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 |
|Here is a dime defense with Wilcher (and Greene) as the two-point DEs|
|A 3-4 with Wilcher putting a hand down, making it a 4-3 over in actuality (also safety walked up)|
|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|
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.