By John Turney
In my youth, there were two collegiate linebackers who struck my fancy for various, boring reasons. But nonetheless, I watched these guys as much as possible, rooted for them and when they entered the NFL there was a vested interest in seeing them succeed.
But, given their college success, they didn't reach the pinnacles that was 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.
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.
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.