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Old 07-07-2006, 05:24 PM   #1
tony hipchest
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Default Summer reading: The greatest game-changers

By Pat Kirwan
NFL.com Senior Analyst


(July 7, 2006) -- There's not one coach's car to be found in an NFL parking lot, and every player I have spoken with in the past few days is kicking back and resting up before the long grind of summer camp is upon us. So, it's not a bad time to think about some debatable issues that come up for discussion from time to time.

The first one on the table is: Which person changed the modern game the most with his contribution?

I'm not going to restrict this question to players -- and of course it might be impossible to really answer -- but it occurred to me after a discussion I had on my Sirius radio show that there are a number of people who are legitimate candidates. After you read through the group I have put together, you might agree, disagree or point out I have left someone off the list.

Let me know your thoughts at NFLCALLOFTHEWEEK@aol.com.



1. Lawrence Taylor: The Hall of Famer revolutionized the outside linebacker position and changed how defenses would attack the quarterback. Soon after Taylor made a name for himself, every team in the league was out looking for its version of L.T. Of course, not many teams came up with such a player. Beyond that, coaches changed defensive schemes based on what the Giants were able to do with Taylor.

2. Bill Walsh: He is known as the designer of the West Coast offense. His coaching disciples are all over the NFL, and they preach the same philosophy Walsh taught: Drive the football with the short passing attack. Many believe that most NFL teams set up the run with the pass, and there's no doubt Bill Walsh took a lot from what he learned early in his coaching career and developed an offense that is the backbone of over half the NFL today.

3. Marshall Faulk: He turned the running back into a wide receiver, and really gave coaches the vision of what the "matchup" game was all about in the NFL. Soon after Marshall stepped on the field as an Indianapolis Colt, opposing teams found out their safeties struggled in space when Faulk would line up as a wideout opposite the two wide receivers. He has 767 receptions and 36 touchdown catches in 176 games. Faulk once caught 80 or more passes in five consecutive seasons. The last draft was a great indication that teams are always looking for matchup nightmares like Reggie Bush and -- more important -- the hybrid defensive backs like Michael Huff, Donte Whitner and Jason Allen, who can cover like corners and play like safeties.

4. Brian Urlacher: The big Chicago middle linebacker played safety in college. When he moved down to the MLB position with safety skills, the position changed for good. The era of the Dick Butkus-type backer disappeared. Now teams expect their Mike backer to drop into the deep middle of the field like a free safety in the Tampa 2 coverage schemes, and they expect them to match up with great running backs coming out of the backfield in man coverages. Before you criticize this candidate, think about the type of players playing middle linebacker around the league and what they are asked to do.



5. Tony Gonzalez: Find a big basketball player who can block, beat linebackers, and line up as wide receivers and outplay safeties and corners when the ball is up in the air. That became an offensive necessity after Gonzalez opened up the Kansas City offense. Now we see Gates, Heap, Shockey, Winslow and others being asked to do the things Gonzalez has been doing since he entered the league. Maybe it was really Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow and his 45 touchdown receptions? Then again, Gonzalez already has 56 touchdowns and going strong.

6. Gil Brandt: He revolutionized the personnel business in the NFL. He was on the ground level of the computerization of evaluating players and developing a way to measure probable athletic success in football while he ran the scouting department for the Dallas Cowboys. His grading system and evaluation process is the backbone of most NFL scouting departments. Although retired from the league for a number of years and a regular contributor to NFL.com, he still has signed more non-football players to NFL contracts than any other personnel man in the business. Ask Gil about any draft pick, and he'll tell you if he has the "traits" to be a success in pro football.

7. Deion Sanders: The term "lockdown cover corner" is defined by how he played the game in his day. Every team that had Sanders on the field let Deion take the top receiver all by himself and let the rest of the defense defend everyone else. He was so good at one point in his career that teams just didn't throw the ball in his direction. Since Deion entered the league, every team has been looking for a lockdown corner to take a receiver out of the game.


Players like Mike Anderson and Olandis Gary have this man to thank for their 1,000-yard seasons.
8. Alex Gibbs: He changed the way modern offensive lines block for the running game. Gibbs wasn't interested in 350-pound offensive linemen. He wanted 290-pound athletes and he couldn't care what round they were discovered in. In fact, a free-agent tight end willing to change positions was even more his kind of guy than a first-round offensive lineman. His style has to be considered more aggressive than most, and the way he teaches his players to get backside defenders on the ground has been the basis for the great Broncos running games no matter which running back they had in the backfield. He went to Atlanta, and overnight the Falcons became a leading rushing offense in the NFL. Gibbs proved you can still run the ball in the NFL when you want to, as long as you have the aggressive athletes he likes to coach.

9. Dan Marino: Coverages didn't faze him. He had the quick release, confidence and aggressiveness to stick the ball in tight spots. His quick release changed how teams had to play defense against him and now others who get the ball out of their hand as soon as possible. He also proved pocket maneuverability was more important than foot speed.

10. Dick LeBeau: He is not the only coach who was willing to use it, but most coaches believe LeBeau revolutionized the zone-blitz defense. He will drop anyone into coverage and blitz anyone from anywhere. Ask Joe Gibbs what changed the most in pro football while he was away running a NASCAR team, and he will say the ways teams pressure the quarterback and the running game. Watch LeBeau, and you will see defensive ends dropping into hook zones and cornerbacks blitzing while lined up on wide receivers.

11. Ronnie Lott: A cornerback who moved to safety and became one of the most feared hitters in the game. He finished up his career with 63 interceptions and an untold number of big hits, tackles and sacks. Lott says Roy Williams is the guy he likes to watch the most now, and a guy in Pittsburgh by the name of Troy Polamalu plays a lot like him. After Lott made a name for himself, the corner/safety position was redefined.

12. George Allen: Among the other things he did, consider the way he developed special teams. NFL teams have close to 500 special-teams plays a season. Because of Allen, today there are special-teams coordinators and assistant special-teams coaches.

There have been some truly great players like Jerry Rice, but did they change how the game is played, or did they simply play it better than anyone else? A guy like Michael Vick has a chance to make the top 10 of people who change how the game is played -- if he can find the success of those listed above. For now, he's on a very short list of possibles.

Let me know if one guy jumps out at you as the man who most changed the modern game.
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Old 07-07-2006, 05:29 PM   #2
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Default Re: Summer reading: The greatest game-changers

theyve been discussing this all week in sirius. some pretty good discussion. hard to argue with anyone on the list, but callers had some other good ones. i might go with marshal faulk at #1. there were talks wether galy sayers shoulda been up there. today they discussed steve sabol and his contributions to the marketing of the sport. other notables left off the list: the commissioners p. rozelle and p. tagliabue. although a cowboy, g. brandt is the man
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Old 07-07-2006, 05:47 PM   #3
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Default Re: Summer reading: The greatest game-changers

Thats a pretty good list.....How about ABC and MNF bringing entertainment and sports to a new level.
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Old 07-07-2006, 05:56 PM   #4
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Default Re: Summer reading: The greatest game-changers

Quote:
Originally Posted by DIESELMAN
Thats a pretty good list.....How about ABC and MNF bringing entertainment and sports to a new level.
howard cossell was mentionned today. not sure but i think pete rozelle was a big factor behind MNF and the marketting.

they mentionned the MNF highlights of sundays games, and how kids would beg their parents to stay up atleast til halftime just to see them.

(i remember that!)
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Old 07-07-2006, 07:42 PM   #5
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Default Re: Summer reading: The greatest game-changers

Quote:
Originally Posted by tony hipchest
5. Tony Gonzalez: Find a big basketball player who can block, beat linebackers, and line up as wide receivers and outplay safeties and corners when the ball is up in the air. That became an offensive necessity after Gonzalez opened up the Kansas City offense. Now we see Gates, Heap, Shockey, Winslow and others being asked to do the things Gonzalez has been doing since he entered the league. Maybe it was really Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow and his 45 touchdown receptions? Then again, Gonzalez already has 56 touchdowns and going strong.
I probably would've credited Kellen Winslow Sr. with this one, but in a few years I think you'll be able to move him up even a couple more spots. The receiving TE is on the verge of becoming a necessity for all offenses. Soon, you'll see more teams trying to attain multiple receiving threats at TE and a lot more 2 TE sets to create matchup problems (i.e. what it appears the patriots are moving towards).
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