Sunday, August 23, 2020

Two Favorites With Similar Career Arcs—Jerry Robinson and Hugh Green

By John Turney

In my youth, there were two collegiate linebackers who struck my fancy for various, boring reasons not interesting to readers but nonetheless, I watched these guys as much as possible, rooted for them and when they entered the NFL there was an emotional vested interest in seeing them succeed.

But, given their college success, they didn't reach the pinnacles that were hoped for, though both had fine, worthy careers.

Jerry Robinson and Hugh Green would still make most All-Time college teams. Robinson was a three-time consensus All-American at UCLA and Green was also a three-time  Consensus All-American at Pitt. It is difficult enough to be an All-American, but both making it as sophomores and juniors as well speaks to their dominance on Saturdays. 

Robinson was the 21st overall pick in the 1979 NFL draft and Green, in 1981, was the seventh overall pick. 

Robinson's career total of 468 tackles, set a UCLA record. He ranked first, second, and third in tackles per season with 161, 159, 147, respectively. The Downtown Athletic Club of New York named him Linebacker of the Year in 1977 and 1978. He was 10th in the Heisman Trophy vote that year. 

In 1980, Green won several major college player of the year awards and finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting, an amazing achievement for a defender in that era.  Green left the university with 460 tackles and 53 career sacks in his college career. John McKay said, "Hugh Green is the most productive player at his position I have ever seen in college".

Also in a parallel fashion both garnered All-Pro/ProBowl selection early in their career.

Robinson was Second-team All-Pro in his second season a First-team All-Pro in his third and a Second-team pick in his fourth season while Green was All-Pro in his second- and third-seasons.

Then, again, similarly neither were ever honored again in their careers, though both were solid fuctional pros and ironically both were traded while both should have been in their prime. In 1985 the Raiders send a second-round pick to the Eagles for Robinson and the Dolphins sent a first- and a second-round pick to Tampa Bay for Green.

The issue for both players is that they were "tweeners" in terms of size. Both were undersized in the pros for their positions. 

Robinson began as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense and it just was not suited for him. Had he come into a 4-3 system like in the 1970s or in the 1990s to now, he'd have been great. He had speed and tackling ability, but as long as he could have put on some weight—to 230 to 235 (he was less than 220 in college) he'd have been fine, like an Isiah Robertson in the 70s or a Seth Joyner in the 90s or a Lavonte David now. 

In 1982 Dick Vermeil moved Robinson to inside linebacker, where again, though he did put on some weight, he was still undersized for that role. He played well, but the pounding wore down on him and he was less effective as the years went by, leading to the trade to the Raiders.

There is was a solid performer, a starter (after not playing much his first year there) but he was not a top or elite player as he was in 1980-81. In 1986 he was again effective, picking off four passes and in 1987, playing both outside 'backer and inside he had a career-high 4.5 sacks. 

He was versatile but he was still a no-frills player someone who is on the field but just not making elite or impact plays year-in and year-out after those seasons. However, one note is that he did force some fumbles with the Raiders and ending with 22 for his career, a goodly number.

He ended his career, after 13 NFL campaigns with over 1,000 tackles and 14 sacks and those 22 forced fumbles and a dozen picks. 

He may not even make the Pro Football Researcher Association's Hall of Very Good, but he was a fine player, just not the perennial All-Pro he might have been if he could have played in, say, Wilber Marshall's scheme with the Bears or maybe in Dallas or Washington (the three teams that stayed with the 4-3 in the 1980s).

As mentioned, Green was undersized as well. In college, he was a stand-up defensive end in a 5-2 scheme and was thought to be someone who might gain some weight and strength and be a smaller/sack master. In 1980 there was a Falcon weakside linebacker who was slightly smaller than Green (Joel Williams, 6-1, 222) who had 16 sacks. So, at the time while not ideal, it was thought Green would do the same or more.

However, in New York, there was a fellow named Lawrence Taylor who was 6-3, 243, and as a rookie was doing all the things Green was supposed to do and in 1981 it was L.T. who was All-Pro and the Defensive Rookie and Player of the Year.

Green was used as a blitzer some but was asked to do more coverage that Taylor. Partly because he had the skill set to cover but also because NFL tackles would just not be as challenged with Green and his 225 pounds as college tackles. So, as a blitzer, he was just not going to be an elite sack/pressure guy due to his lack of size though he was still an elite player in terms of all-around play 

By 1984 Green was dealing with injuries caused by an automobile accident and in 1985 he had other issues. He became disgruntled with the team's regression and wanted out. 

The Dolphins were all-to-glad to get Green. They were less than a year removed from losing the Super Bowl in large part because of defense woes, they were more of a well-coached hustle-type defense than one stacked with elite players. 

Green totaled 5 sacks in his first 11 games with the Dolphins and all was set for a recharged Green. 

But early that year Green (off to a fast start) ruptured a tendon in his knee and it was thought to be career-threatening—

Dr. Indelicato was prophetic. Green came back but was just not the same. It was not until 1988 that he was able to become a starter again and now, like Jerry Robinson, he was a fine player but not what he was with the Bucs. He could still tackle, rush some, and was always (like Robinson) a fierce hitter but he was not going to be an All-Pro again, just as the doc said.

So there you have it, a pair of three-time All-Americans who each had a few All-Pro/Pro Bowl level seasons who were fine pros with excellent careers but just were not able to maintain that elite level of player for their entire NFL careers.

I salute both anyway.

And no one asked, but since I mentioned the College All-Time team, here is mine dating from 1960 to the present. This is based on college careers, not pro personnel reports, and so on. 

QB— John Elway, Stanford 
RB— Archie Griffin, Ohio State 
RB— Herschel Walker, Georgia 
RB— Tony Dorsett, Pittsburgh 
WR— Tim Brown, Notre Dame 
TE— Keith Jackson, Oklahoma 
T— Ron Yary, USC 
T— Orlando Pace, Ohio State
G —John Hannah, Alabama 
G— Greg Roberts, Oklahoma
C— Dave Rimington, Nebraska 

DE— Hugh Green, Pittsburgh 
DE— Ted Hendricks, Miami (FL) 
DL— Lee Roy Selmon, Oklahoma 
DL—Bubba Smith, Michigan State 
MG—Tony Casillas, Oklahoma
LB— Richard Wood, USC
LB— Jerry Robinson, UCLA 
CB— Deion Sanders, Florida State
CB— Charles Woodson, Michigan 
S— Kenny Easley, UCLA 
S —Jack Tatum, Ohio State 

K— Sebastian Janikowski, Florida State 
P— Ray Guy, Southern Mississippi
Ret— Johnny Rodgers, Nebraska 


  1. I never understood why the Eagles shifted Robinson from ROLB to LILB. Seems like an odd move, and its not like Philly was stacked with great OLBs.

    I remember the Dolphins acquiring Hugh Green as being somewhat of a desperation move, because Green's play had already fallen off in 1984. Maybe that's a faulty memory on my part.

    I think Lavar Arrington of Penn State would count as another great college/good NFL LB. One of the weirdest careers has to be Andy Katzenmoyer...the guy was immediately phenomenal in college, then seemed to regress so that he was just decent by his senior year.

    1. Eagles were playing a 3-4 and Robinson was more of a sideline to sideline guy so they though he could make more plays and teams wouldn't run away from him/ But in a 3-4 both OLBers need to be able to have some pass rush skills and Robinson really didn't have them

      He needed to eb a 4-3 WILL backer.