By John Turney
There had been nosebackers before Fred Strickland began to play the position in 1988-89 with the Los Angeles Rams.
What is a nosebacker? Paul Zimmerman used it on a Sports Illustrated article and that name stuck with Strickland. It was due to the fact he played a specialized position in Rams defensive coordinator's Eagle defense, where he'd play over the nose in a 5-linebacker defense and then if the situation dictated it, he'd stem to a weakside linebacker position, making that the "Hawk" defense.
However, back in the day, film shows guys like Bill Willis and Mike McCormack would essentially do the same thing, and even the NFL's early middle linebackers would often put their hand in the dirt over the center to create a five-man line.
So Shurmur didn't really invent that position, but he did bring it back to life.
It started in 1988 when the Rams were woefully short of defensive linemen so as a changeup he dusted off his playbook and implemented his Eagle defense which we hadn't seen for several years though it was seen on occasion, it used base personnel.
|Shurmur's Eagle in 1984 versus Dallas.|
However, in 1988, Shurmur used to give linebackers and two defensive linemen to populate the front seven (usually being an eight-man front, the safety would come up to fill the front). And inside linebacker Mark Jerue would act as the nosebacker. After he went down to an injury Strickland stepped in.
In 1989 Strickland opened the season as the starter at weak inside linebacker in the 3-4 and the stemming backing in the Eagle/Hawk.
|Strickland in the base 3-4, on the weak side|
|Moving from the nose to the weakside ILBer spot, making the "Eagle" into "Hawk"|
|Strickland on the nose in the Eagle defense|
|1988 Playoffs with Strickland as left tackle in nickel/dime|
|Strickland as a linebacker in nickel/dime|
|Strickland as the right defensive end in a dime package|
Fisher brought some of the same principles of the Eagle (he was a Buddy Ryan disciple) since the Eagle and the 46 were essentially the same scheme but there were changes in the base defense. The Rams switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 and Strickland was moved to strong-side linebacker playing over the tight end.
|Strickland over the tight end in 1991 as a SAM|
|Strickland as a 'backer in nickel|
Kevin Greene was moved to left linebacker and he also played defensive end in nickel, Roman Phifer was the right linebacker, he was a star in the making, Kelm was the middle linebacker, as he as in 1991. So, Strickland was restricted to special teams, for all intents and purposes. He simply didn't play and was not invited back for the 1993 season.
|As a WILL with the Vikings|
The move to the weakside excited Strickland stating, "On the weak side I will have the opportunity to make more hits". Strickland was not great at coverage (he was best at going forward), but he worked on it and made the team but did not get the starting position until week 2 when second-year player Ed McDaniel went down with an injury.
|As a MIKE in Dallas|
Strickland was a starter for three years in Dallas and signed with Washington in 1999 and was a backup there and it was his last NFL season.
As some may or may not remember the Rams got Strickland as part of the Eric Dickerson trade. They also got Aaron Cox, Gaston Green, Cleveland Gary, Frank Stams, and Darryl Henley, plus Greg Bell and Owen Gill.
Bell and Strickland gave the Rams the most out of that group and when he left they got nothing since he was a free agent.
He was a special player who got a rap for getting hurt too often when he was with the Rams but he sure had some abilities not a lot of players had—to play multiple positions and to do it a lot and to do it well. It was not just some gimmick thing, he played his spots with effectiveness.
His list of positions includes weak inside linebacker, middle linebacker, weak outside linebacker, strong outside linebacker, nose tackle, defensive tackle (both left and right), and defensive end.