Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Larry Weisman's "All-Joe" Teams

 By John Turney

Larry Weisman

A couple of days ago we posted about Vinny DiTrani's "Allmost All-Pro Teams" that he created in 1970 and ran for 41 years. It was in part an All-Pro team but also in part a Pro Bowl or All-Pro "snub" team—honoring players who were on an All-Pro/Pro Bowl level that for whatever reason didn't make the team.

In 1992 USA Today's Larry Weisman began his iteration of the same form of team and he called it the "All-Joe" team. It ran for 22 years, though the last few were chosen by someone other than Weisman.

The name "All-Joe" was to honor players like nose tackle Joe Phillips. Each year Weisman would give the explanation of the origins of the All-Joe Team with this introduction—

Tracing All-Joe's roots

The All-Joe team takes its name from Joe Phillips, a defensive tackle for 14 years for San Diego, Kansas City and Minnesota before retiring in 1999.

The Chiefs signed Phillips in 1992 after his release by the Chargers, and his meaty frame immediately helped his new team toughen up against the run. The Chiefs switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme to better stuff the run, with Phillips as the nose tackle. They asked him to tie up blockers and let the linebackers flow to the ball, which he did.

That's classic grunt work at one of football's truly thankless positions and the results don't show up in individual statistics. Phillips didn't make a lot of tackles, and he didn't have to. He took on centers and guards, fought for every inch of turf and made the guys around him better, inspiring the creation of the All-Joe team.

The NFL's stars would not succeed without the All-Joes around them. They would never make the Pro Bowl without the guys who handle the grubbier assignments.

Hence, the All-Joe motto: If you work hard, good things will happen. To someone else. 

Weisman first picked his team in 1992, here is that team—

Here are the 1999 selections—Weismann began to add mini-bios to his selections:

1999 All-Joe selections

OFFENSE

WIDE RECEIVERS Marcus Robinson Chicago Huge numbers, no name, great upside. Terrence Wilkins Indianapolis Where'd they find this guy? Patrick Jeffers Carolina Dallas lost him, and Jeffers found himself. 

TIGHT ENDS Greg Clark San Francisco A throwback who survived five broken ribs. Freddie Jones San Diego A bruising bull with the ball. 

OFFENSIVE TACKLES Walter Jones Seattle Smooth, athletic, on the cusp of stardom. Jon Jansen Washington Rookie with attitude is a reason 'Skins run right. Tarik Glenn Indianapolis Knocked for bad body, admired for body of work. 

OFFENSIVE GUARDS Adam Timmerman St. Louis Free agent brought experience as a winner. Frank Middleton Tampa Bay Smoothed the edges of an aggressive style. Chris Villarial Chicago Returned to natural position and thrived. 

CENTER Brian Williams New York Giants Back after two-year absence (eye). 

RUNNING BACKS Olandis Gary Denver Terrell who? Churnin' and burnin'. Ricky Williams New Orleans Never healthy, but never quit. 

FULLBACKS Bob Christian Atlanta Complete package; back from knee injury. Lorenzo Neal Tennessee Terrific blocker should get more playing time.

 QUARTERBACKS Ray Lucas New York Jets Proved his team could win without Vin. Steve McNair Tennessee Peaking now, putting back surgery behind him. 

DEFENSE

 DEFENSIVE ENDS Chad Bratzke Indianapolis Celebrating the joy of sacks. Marco Coleman Washington Inspirational leader of rudderless defense. Raylee Johnson San Diego Beginning to find pass-rushing form. 

DEFENSIVE TACKLES Tony Siragusa Baltimore Large and in charge. D'Marco Farr St. Louis Slippery and durable (79 consecutive starts). Pat Williams Buffalo Big man with quickness getting quality minutes. 

LINEBACKERS London Fletcher St. Louis Stacks up the inside traffic. Tedy Bruschi New England Undersized "effort" guy. Dwayne Gordon New York Jets A worker eclipsed by bigger names. Mike Jones St. Louis Finds the ball and the end zone. 

SAFETIES Victor Green New York Jets More than 100 tackles four times in five years. Devin Bush St. Louis Sterling replacement for injured Keith Lyle. Jason Belser Indianapolis A heat-seeking missile when he blitzes. 

CORNERBACKS Donnie Abraham Tampa Bay Came up big in big games. Samari Rolle Tennessee Titans match him against opponent's top receiver. Robert Bailey Detroit Journeyman forced to start, hung tough. 

PUNTER Josh Miller Pittsburgh No longer Bill Cowher's whipping boy. 

KICKER Wade Richey San Francisco Former scatterleg missed only two field goal tries. 

SPECIAL TEAMS Harold Morrow Minnesota Loves to blow up return artists. 

Dale Hellestrae Dallas At 37, this long snapper sets personal best for special teams tackles.

 COACH Jeff Fisher Tennessee Leads Titans out of the mediocrity muddle.

 OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Tom Moore Indianapolis Narrowly, ahead of St. Louis' Mike Martz. 

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR Marvin Lewis Baltimore Defense held it together until offense jelled. 

SPECIAL TEAMS COACH Pete Rodriguez Seattle A master of the coverage-team arts.

Weisman left USA Today before his 20th Anniversary Team and Nate Davis took over. Here is the 20th version of the All-Joe Team—

OFFENSE

QB: Matthew Stafford, Lions - The last time the All-Joe team selected a player who passed for more than 5,000 yards and 40 TDs was never. Despite posting such numbers and leading Detroit into postseason for the first time this century, Stafford could not snap the Lions' 40-year streak of failing to send a quarterback to the Pro Bowl. But he'll fix that soon enough. Alex Smith, 49ers - He may never be as good as the man he was drafted way ahead of (Aaron Rodgers), but his team player longer this season largely thanks to Smith's playoff heroics. After throwing a league-low five interceptions, Smith could really blossom in 2012 while playing in the same offense in successive seasons for the first time … provided San Francisco re-signs him. Tim Tebow, Broncos - Love him or loathe the hype surrounding him, there's no denying he revitalized a team that was dead in the water into AFC West champs. We especially appreciate his willingness to play wideout when Kyle Orton was still the starter.

RB: Reggie Bush, Dolphins - Proved to doubters that he could run between the tackles and notched his first 1,000-yard season, nearly doubling his previous career high. Fred Jackson, Bills - Buffalo really went downhill after he broke his leg in Week 11. Unheralded product from Division III Coe College averaged nearly 140 yards from scrimmage. Ben Tate, Texans - After a broken ankle scuttled his rookie year, he had a sophomore surge by running for 942 yards (5.4 yards per clip) as Arian Foster's understudy.

FB: Jim Kleinsasser, Vikings - He could play fullback, he could play tight end, and this 270-pounder could block so well that defenders wanted no part of him for 13 years. He retired following the 2011 season and now appears headed to a first-ballot selection to the All-Joe Hall of Fame.

WR: Victor Cruz, Giants - Given his Hispanic heritage and end-zone salsa dances, maybe we should create an All-Jose team for him. However he'd be just as overqualified for that one as he is for All-Joe after churning out a team record 1,536 receiving yards. Jordy Nelson, Packers - How a guy scores 15 TDs in the season after he was a Super Bowl hero and gets shut out of postseason honors is beyond us … but we'll gladly take him. Marques Colston, Saints - Yes, we're sure, he's never been a Pro Bowler despite five 1,000-yard seasons in his six-year career. Call him a byproduct of the New Orleans' passing offense at your own risk. Just make sure you call him tough after a broken collarbone suffered in Week 1 kept him out all of two weeks. Laurent Robinson, Cowboys - Basically walked off the street to sub for injured Miles Austin and scored 11 TDs for Dallas after reaching the end zone four times in his first four seasons. Doug Baldwin, Seahawks - How many undrafted rookies have led their team in receptions and receiving yards since the merger? It's a club of one, and Baldwin is the charter member. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders - Blew up for 975 receiving yards, better than any season ever produced by Michael Crabtree, the man Oakland was blasted for bypassing to draft DHB in 2009.

TE: Aaron Hernandez, Patriots - He catches (79 receptions, 910 yards, 7 TDs), blocks and even plays running back as evidenced by his playoff performance against the Broncos. Brent Celek, Eagles - Tough yards are his forte. According to STATS Inc., his 8.1 yards after the catch (and he had 62 receptions) was the best among all tight ends in 2011. Celek is also an effective blocker, a trait not all modern tight ends are known for.

T: Duane Brown, Texans - The Pro Bowls are coming, so we're going to enlist him for our team while we still can. Andrew Whitworth, Bengals - Steady leader and solid blocker for a young team that relied on both attributes during its surprising wild-card run. Todd Herremans, Eagles - A starting guard his first six NFL seasons, he shifted to right tackle in 2011, a move that made him Michael Vick's blind-side bodyguard. Philadelphia's 6,386 yards were a team record. Max Starks, Steelers - He was cut right after the lockout, then summoned off his couch 10 weeks later on Oct. 5. He was in the starting lineup four days after that and never left.

G: Mike Brisiel, Texans - Enough said. Josh Sitton, Packers - He doesn't get much notoriety despite starting for the league's No. 1 scoring offense. Yet he's got an argument as the game's best at his position, whether or not most fans have heard of him. Chris Kuper, Broncos - Team captain helped O-line transition to Tebow's style while spearheading the NFL's most productive running game.

C: Roberto Garza, Bears - Capably filled the leadership and positional void left after the bitter departure of longtime leader Olin Kreutz. Todd McClure, Falcons - The glue of an Atlanta line that allowed 10 sacks of Matt Ryan in the three games McClure missed. Ryan went down just 16 times during McClure's 13 starts, none surrendered by the center himself. Dominic Raiola, Lions - Consider this a lifetime achievement award for a fiery team captain who endured so many losses in his first 10 seasons before enjoying his first postseason trip.

DEFENSE

DE: Chris Long, Rams - The No. 2 pick of the 2008 draft turned in his best season, posting a career-high 13 sacks. He's also tough at the point of attack and tough in the run game. J.J. Watt, Texans - If you didn't know his name before the postseason, you do after watching his momentum-swinging pick six of the Bengals and 2.5-sack day in Baltimore. More than justified Houston's investment of the 11th overall pick in him last spring. Chris Clemons, Seahawks - One of the best speed rushers in the game, he's registered 11 sacks each of the past two years. He also posted a career-best 51 tackles in 2011 and forced three fumbles. Red Bryant, Seahawks - You don't find many 6-4, 323-pounders at this position. But Bryant has anchored Seattle's impressive run defense the past two years, helping it limit opponents to 3.8 yards per carry in 2011. Calais Campbell, Cardinals - It's hard to get sacks out of a three-man front, but he had eight in 2011. The 6-8, 300-pounder also made 72 tackles, swatted 10 passes and tied Bryant for the league lead by blocking three field goals. Jeremy Mincey, Jaguars - Jacksonville finally finds a reliable option (57 tackles, 8 sacks, 4 forced fumbles) at what's long bee a problem spot for the team. But now the Jags may lose Mincey to free agency.

DT: Henry Melton, Bears - This former Longhorn can run like a deer. Why? Because he used to play running back at Texas. Now this 295-pounder rushes quarterbacks to the tune of seven sacks in 2011. Sione Pouha, Jets - Despite toiling as a space-eating nose tackle, he's totaled 100 tackles spanning the past two seasons while becoming a first-rate run stuffer as Kris Jenkins' replacement. Now the Jets must figure out a way to keep Pouha, a free agent, while dealing with their other issues.

OLB: Aldon Smith, 49ers - He won't be a regular Joe for long. He didn't start once, but his 14 sacks were one shy of setting a new rookie record. Connor Barwin, Texans - A starter for the first time, the third-year pass rusher greatly softened the loss of Mario Williams by turning in 11.5 sacks. He's also got a 'do that would make Seinfield's Kramer jealous. Jarret Johnson, Ravens - The numbers will never wow you (56 tackles, 2.5 sacks), but he's an intrinsic element of a perennial stout defense who never gets his due as a blue-collar guy amid so many stars. Antwan Barnes, Chargers - San Diego found a new pass rusher as journeyman had nine sacks in his final 10 games.

ILB: David Harris, Jets - On his way to being the next London Fletcher: tons of production, no recognition. But he did it all again in 2011 with 86 tackles, five sacks, four picks. Sean Lee, Cowboys: Arguably the best pass defender among NFL backers, he matched Harris' four interceptions for the positional lead in 2011. Lee also amassed 105 tackles despite playing much of the year with a broken wrist that required a club-like cast. D'Qwell Jackson, Browns - Led the AFC with 158 tackles, perhaps not that surprising given so many runners reached the second level of Cleveland's defense. But credit his production after he missed most of 2009 and all of 2010 with injuries. Pat Angerer, Colts - High-motor player took over in the middle for injured Gary Brackett early in the season and responded with 148 stops, second only to Jackson in the AFC. James Anderson, Panthers - He's had to step up for a unit riddled with injuries in recent years and has nearly 200 solo tackles since 2010.

CB: Lardarius Webb, Ravens: If you watched him in postseason, you saw a player who's got a chance to be a star. After pilfering five passes as a first-year starter, he added three more in the playoffs. Jason McCourty, Titans - The relatively unknown twin of Patriot Devin McCourty, Jason showed a willingness to get dirty with 105 tackles, a huge total at the position. He also broke up 13 passes. Kyle Arrington, Patriots - Yes, New England's pass defense was highly suspect in 2011. But anyone who picks off a league-high seven balls is good enough for a cup of Joe. Joe Haden, Browns - It's always nice to have a bona fide Joe on the roster. But don't expect him to be here long. His goose egg in the INT column is a sign of respect from leery quarterbacks, not lack of ability. Brandon Flowers, Chiefs - With 70 pass break-ups and 13 picks in four seasons, he's also going places … like Honolulu in the near future.

S: Donte Whitner, 49ers - Paroled from Buffalo, he frequently displayed tone-setting physicality, most notably in San Francisco's playoff win vs. the Saints. Poor Pierre Thomas …Jim Leonhard, Jets - His value as the quarterback of the defense was pretty apparent after he suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 14. New York lost its last three without Leonhard, allowing 31 points per game in that stretch, and saw its playoff prospects disintegrate.

SPECIAL TEAMS

KR: Darren Sproles, Saints - We stashed him here even though he does far more than return kicks and punts. Perhaps the best free-agent signing of the offseason, his 2,696 all-purpose yards were a league record, and the 603 on the ground led New Orleans.

K: Connor Barth, Buccaneers - He converted 93% (27-for-29) of his field-goal attempts, best among kickers with outdoor home fields. And he didn't get a lot of gimmes, hitting 15 of 17 from 40 yards or more.

P: Thomas Morstead - You knew he was good at the onside kick. Did you know his 43.1-yard net punting average was second in the league or that his 68 touchbacks on kickoffs were a record? (Though it's nice playing alongside an offense that allows you to kick off all day.)

ST: Lorenzo Alexander, Redskins - Captain of special teams led unit with 21 tackles. One of the game's good guys, he's played tight end, linebacker and on both lines in his career.

Like the Allmost All-Pro Teams the All-Joe Teams have value for the same reasons. First, a player might only make one of these teams in his career and this is his All-Pro team. Another is sometimes a player on one of these teams might have had a better season than someone who made the Pro Bowl ahead of him. Also, perhaps it's a young, ascending player and these teams identify him a year or two before the rest of the writers discover his skill set and they vote him to an All-pro team.

So, like we did DiTrani we salute Weisman for his creation. It's a fun and creative way to remember some good football players. 

Way to go Larry.

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