Across the league, defensive linemen continue to grow unabated
Posted: Thursday December 23, 2004 12:02PM; Updated: Thursday December 23, 2004 12:57PM
Packers DT Grady Jackson has just 20 tackles and one sack in nine games this season.
The subject is fat guys in the NFL, particularly fat defensive linemen. Let me start with a story I may have alluded to before, but I think is apropos.
I'm in Honolulu with my son, Mike. We're watching a Japanese TV station, which is presenting a Sumo tournament. We're watching match after match, and if you're into betting, as we are, this is a fine thing, because we're wagering on every bout -- he picks first, then next bout I do, and so on.
Toward the end of the evening, Konishiki, the 560-pound champion shows up. He gets down in a four-point defensive lineman's stance, rises up and hits his opponent with a perfect two-hand, straight-arm shiver and knocks him out of the ring. A pure football technique.
"Holy hell," I'm thinking. "Put a guy like this on the nose, or maybe two of them at the DTs, and who's going to run on you?"
The idea of it haunted me, and when we got back to the mainland I called Al Davis about it. I mean who else but the Raiders would go for something like this?
"We've thought of it," he said, "but there are two things wrong with the idea. First of all, you couldn't pay 'em enough. They make good money over there without getting the hell beat out of them. Secondly, they have no stamina. Their bouts are over in 30 seconds or less. Make 'em play for three or four minutes and they'd poop out."
But the NFL is certainly heading in a direction that -- if not an exact copy of the Sumo ideal, then pretty close to it. Fat guys along the defensive front. Run-stoppers, short of stamina, wide of girth. I'm not talking about just big, bulky people. I mean serious fats, guys with huge bellies. Waddlers.
At one time, when a certain trimness was called for at every position, players such as this wouldn't even be issued a uniform until they got themselves in reasonable shape. I remember the line coach at Columbia, John Bateman, refusing to let one gigantic youngster even come out for the team.
"He'll wind up with a heart attack," coach Bateman said, "and the school will end up getting sued."
"They stay in one place for a while," says a scout I know, "and the team puts up with them for a while. Then they get lazy and they grow even fatter and it's time to move on. Check the bios of those fat guys. How many different addresses do they have?"
Well, Ted Washington, the king of the fats with a program weight of 365 pounds (and usually you can assume it's more, with these players), has had six addresses. The 49ers drafted him in the first round, labeled him an underachiever, and then traded him to Denver for a fifth-round choice. He lasted a year with the Broncos, and then went to Buffalo, where he enjoyed his greatest success. Next stop, Chicago, where he got hurt. Then on to a major contribution to New England's Super Bowl effort last year and now a residence in Oakland, where he's been almost invisible on a run defense that ranks 18th.
The Packers' nose tackle, Grady Jackson, at 6-2 and an official 340, is what you would call a Serious Fat. His career bottomed out at both Oakland and New Orleans, but then the Packers brought him in last year to relieve the All Time Fat, Gilbert Brown.
For the record, Gilbert's dimensions were the same as Jackson's, 6-2, 340, but all you had to do was look at him to see the fiction involved there. Sitting next to Reggie White, a 305-pounder, on the bench, Gilbert looked twice as wide. That he was over 400 was a given, and some Packers even speculated that Gilbert was approaching terra incognita, weightwise, something in the Konishiki range.
He was a John Madden favorite. "Don't even try to run inside when Gilbert's in there," Madden would say time and again, but the periods when Gilbert was in there got less and less. And by the fourth quarter he was usually on the bench, sucking oxygen.
Jackson is a smaller version, but you hear the same mantra ... "Don't even try, " etc. Except that his playing time is diminishing, and a big hit or two in the first half usually gives way to silence in the last quarter. The Packers rank 17th against the run and last Sunday Fred Taylor became the fifth runner to hit them for more than 145 yards this season.
The Father of the Fats was LesBingaman, who played the nose in Detroit's five-man line in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Bingo came into the league as a fairly mobile 242-pounder in 1948. By 1954, his final season, his weight had topped out at a listed 320, and there were still offensive guards and centers in the 210 to 220-pound range at that time. He dominated the middle on some championship Lions teams, but his legs finally gave out, and he quit at 28. He died 16 years later at 44.
I'll present a brief roster of Current Fats, Emerging Fats, Established Fats, et al, later on, and I'll include their listed weight when they were drafted, if it is markedly different from what it is now. The gains weren't quite as dramatic as Bingaman's, but a few were unusual. And many times they became different players, too, often undergoing personality changes as they cashed in on their image of the lovable fat man.
Tony Siragusa was a very effective run-stopper with the Ravens from 1997 through 2001.
Tony Siragusa was a serious, technically correct, run-stopping 296-pounder when the Colts signed him as a free agent in 1990. He had something to prove. I remember covering an Indianapolis practice in his second or third year and he approached me in the locker room and asked, "Can I talk to you for a minute?"
So we went into the weight room and a minute stretched into 40, and we went through almost all the keynote interior defensive linemen in the league -- which one was a dedicated run-stopper, who worked hardest, who was merely a sack artist who didn't bother with the run. It troubled him that this area of the game was so neglected, that people didn't really understand who was working at his trade and who wasn't. He wanted to be known as a guy who worked it.
Fast forward to January, 2001, Super Bowl week in Tampa, Wednesday media session. The Baltimore Ravens' Siragusa, his 350 pounds occupying what looks like half the interview table, is holding court. They are packed around him two deep. He is a personality, in quotes, king of the one-liners. Someone asks him if this is the best defense ever.
"Well, who was better?" he says.
"Steel Curtain Steelers," I say.
"What are you, from Pittsburgh?"
"No, from Jersey, same as you."
They switched the topic and afterward Siragusa came over to me and said, quite annoyed, "What are you trying to screw up my act for?"
"You don't remember me, do you?" I said.
"No, should I?"
"Not really. Just asking."
Now this Roster of Fats is based on purely personal evaluations. A big guy, such as the Panthers' Kris Jenkins, isn't included, even though he weighs 335. I'm talking about people who look like they could use a good slimming program, who have those big bulges, the "before" part of the before and after ads.
HIGH PROFILE FATS
Sam Adams, Buffalo, 6-4, 335 (285 when drafted) -- Bad marks for underachieving at Seattle and Oakland, but had some fine moments in Baltimore, teaming with Siragusa to provide a serious push up the middle during the postseason play leading up to and including the Super Bowl. Sometimes needs to be pushed, with the Bills, but can be highly destructive when aroused, such as in the St. Louis game in November.
Pat Williams, Buffalo, 6-3, 317 (came in at 270) -- One of the few players who has stayed with the same team the whole time (eight years). Joined the Bills as a free agent, played behind Washington, showed great quickness. Many people thought he was better than Big Ted. Has achieved true fat man status in the last couple of years, though, and his game is not as dramatic.
Dr. Z will answer select user questions each week in his NFL mailbag.
Grady Jackson, Green Bay, 6-2, 340 (320) -- Same pattern everywhere, a savior at first, gifted with quick moves and fine instincts, then rebuked for laziness. Still somewhat in the up phase with the Packers, but his productivity is diminishing as the season drags on.
Keith Traylor, New England, 6-2, 325 (260-pound linebacker when Denver first drafted him) -- This is his sixth stop. Can make a play here and there, but no real continuity. The Pats alternate him with rookie Vince Wilfork.
Norman Hand, NY Giants, 6-3, 310 (329) -- The only guy who actually shrunk during his tenure in the league, if the program weight is to be believed, and when you see him in profile you have to wonder. His fifth club. Always called in to "shore up the run game," to "be a force," etc. Then he just seems to drift into anonymity and move on. He is basically an honest worker, though, who will hold up his end -- until he gets tired, which is the occupational hazard that affects all of them.
Ted Washington, Oakland, 6-3, 365 (299) -- I thought he was through at least four times in his career. Now, at 36, it might be true, but he does have a habit of coming back.
Warren Sapp, Oakland, 6-2, 303 (281) -- I couldn't figure out whether or not he belonged with these people, because he was always a quick-footed guy who didn't fit the profile of the immovable run-stopper. But every scout I checked with said, "Yes, he belongs on your list...just look at him, side view," so here he is. Still can do the quicks when he's lined up over a guard inside, but way out of his element when they play him as an end in the base defense.
Jamal Williams, San Diego, 6-3, 348 (305) -- The best of all of them and a serious All-Pro candidate. Capable of great destruction when he's angry, as he was against Denver, a team that always bugs him because it was a Bronco nasty-block that ended his season two years ago. Positively destroyed them in the first half a few weeks ago, but then, alas, felt the pangs of fatigue in half No. 2.
Vince Wilfork, New England, 6-2, 325 -- The Patriots' rookie still has his college quicks but there's a lot of bulk there. "I promise you, we'll slim him down by next year," a member of the staff told me in strictest confidence
Maake Kemoeatu, Baltimore, 6-5, 340 -- Backs up Kelly Gregg on the nose. Further information necessary here, but he seems capable of growing into the role.
FATS FOR FURTHER STUDY
A pair of young Juniors, Ioane (6-4, 332) at Houston and Siavii (6-5, 336) at Kansas City: Jerry Deloach, Houston (6-2, 335)
OLD STANDBY FATS
Big Daddy Wilkinson, Detroit, 6-4, 335 (300) -- They tell me he's growing into the role, although I have never thought of him as a true Fat. Further study required.
Marcus Bell, Detroit, 6-2, 326 (319) -- Always a burly kind of guy. Maybe I'm reaching here.
Kelvin Pritchett, Detroit, 6-3, 330 (281) -- The Lions seem to be collecting them, and I haven't even included the biggest of the bunch, 345-pound ShaunRogers, whom I don't think belongs to this genre.
No one's perfect, and I'm probably missing some. If you have some particularly promising entries, kindly submit them and tell Andrew to let them through as FSP (Fat Survey Program) contributions.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Paul Zimmerman covers the NFL for the magazine and SI.com. His Power Rankings, "Inside Football" column and Mailbag appear weekly on SI.com.