Draft rush shows the value of DTs
May 6, 2003 Print it
Defensive tackles sometimes are treated like tie tacks -- accessories, not necessities. But this spring, defensive tackles are the must-have items.
There was a stampede for the big men in the draft; six defensive tackles were chosen in the first round. Three teams, the Jets, Saints and Patriots, moved up to take one.
Part of it, obviously, is there have been more quality tackles available. But there is more to it. The Super Bowl champion Buccaneers reinforced the lesson last year that great defenses usually begin with great tackle play.
"When you play Tampa, the first guy you're trying to game-plan to stop is Warren Sapp," says Saints coach Jim Haslett. "So if you get a player of that caliber, he can make a difference as much as any other player on your defense. Usually, teams go for rush guys, cornerbacks and guys who score touchdowns. But if you can't stop the run, that's when you decide tackles become valuable. Our tackle play wasn't very good, and we didn't stop the run."
Now Haslett has a player he hopes can give him what Sapp gives the Bucs. The Saints gave up two first-round picks (17th and 18th) to move up to the sixth spot and select Johnathan Sullivan, whose quickness and explosion should enable the Saints to stop long runs before start.
Many teams have decided tackles should be prioritized. Jets coach Herm Edwards, who moved up in the draft to take Dewayne Robertson with the fourth pick overall, says his defense starts with the 3 technique tackle, the tackle who lines up between the guard and offensive tackle.
Rams general manager Charley Armey drafted tackle Jimmy Kennedy with the 12th pick even though the Rams already had two former first-round tackles in Damione Lewis and Ryan Pickett and productive rotation tackles in Brian Young and Tyoka Jackson. Why? Armey believes tackles are as important as ends.
In fact, tackles can be more important. Tackles can affect defenses more than ends of similar ability because tackles can affect the run defense and pass rush to a greater degree than ends.
"If you can't stop the run, it doesn't matter how good your end is," Edwards says.
"Defensive tackles can control the game and put offenses in tough situations on second and third downs," Armey says. "Everything starts with the center and quarterback, and they are at the closest point to be disruptive. They make safeties and corners play better because they can take away time and things the quarterback wants to do with the ball."
Look at the best defenses of all time, and you'll find that dominant tackle play is a common denominator. Last year, the Bucs had Sapp and Anthony McFarland, until he broke a foot late in the season. The 2000 Ravens had Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa. The 1985 Bears had Steve McMichael, William Perry and Dan Hampton. The Vikings' "Purple People Eater" defenses had Alan Page. The Steelers' "Steel Curtain" had Mean Joe Greene and Ernie Holmes. The Cowboys' dominant defenses under Tom Landry had Bob Lilly, Randy White, Jethro Pugh and John Dutton.
Conversely, tackle play was down in the NFL last season. Of the 28 players with the highest sack totals, only one, Rod Coleman of the Raiders, was a defensive tackle. Coleman (11 sacks) was the only defensive tackle to have more than 71ÃƒÂƒÃ…Â¡2 sacks. There weren't even enough worthy tackle candidates for the Pro Bowl, and Bryant Young, 31, who had two sacks for the 49ers, made it as a sentimental favorite.
"What we're finding is there are a lot of old tackles who still are playing," Edwards says. "That tells you something about the position."
Gilbert Brown, 32, has been a free agent each of the last four offseasons, but he keeps coming back to the home of the league's best tailgate barbecues, Green Bay. Ted Washington, 35, and Keith Traylor, 33, became a tandem in Chicago after being cut by their previous teams. Adams, who will turn 30 in June, recently signed with the Bills, his fourth team in five years.
John Randle, 35, still is making noise in Seattle after being released by the Vikings in March 2001. He will be joined this year by Norman Hand, 30, whom the Saints would have given away for a handful of Bazooka bubble gum. The Raiders just picked up Dana Stubblefield, 32, who has been cut twice in the last three years. To replace him, the 49ers claimed D'Marco Farr, 31, on waivers from the Best Damn Sports Show Period. Farr last played for the Rams in 2000.
Clearly the NFL is ready for an infusion of young tackle talent. And the good news is tackles such as the six drafted in the first round this year should be able to play and contribute as rookies. "It's the easiest position to play quickly," Haslett says. "There isn't a lot of thinking to it."
Nor should it take a lot of thinking to figure out how valuable tackles are.
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