Giant among men: Longevity is the best measure of Strahan's impact
I first noticed Michael Strahan on the field stretching as he prepared for his first practice at the 1993 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. With long arms and a lean physique, Strahan looked more like an NBA small forward than an NFL defensive end. He also had that signature gap in his front teeth that was noticeable the minute he broke into that infectious smile of his.
Coming from a small school like Texas Southern, Strahan had much to prove to everyone on our Cleveland Browns coaching staff and the other 29 teams in attendance for the Senior Bowl. First he needed to prove he belonged in the game and that he could handle the level of competition. More importantly, he needed to prove that he belonged in the early rounds of the NFL draft.
Before the week was over, Strahan had become a star. He was the best player on a field that featured Blaine Bishop, Elvis Grbac and Trent Green, among others. He showed a love of football and a passion that was on display each time he took the practice field. We missed our opportunity of drafting him for the Browns by just two picks in the second round, but it never stopped me from watching and admiring his play.
In deciding to end his pro football career on Monday, Strahan leaves the game in the most distinguished fashion -- winning the Super Bowl. The true measure of greatness lies in your longevity and, remarkably, Strahan leaves the game still as a top flight player.
Strahan always has been a wonderful player to watch on film. He is a classic old school defensive end -- he can play any style or scheme, he can dominate the run and he can dominate the game rushing the passer. You can learn many things from watching great players on tape. For me, watching Strahan play taught me the valuable lesson of matchups in the NFL.
If you have a dominating player over the opponent's right tackle, more often than not, most right tackles cannot handle him. Normally right tackles in the NFL tend to be slow. They tend to have limited athletic ability and struggle when they are left on an island, especially in pass protection. So placing a player like Strahan over a weaker player will ultimately affect the matchup and the game plan. When you have certain players on your team that the opponents spend Monday and Tuesday night trying to find ways to block, you know you have a star. And Strahan kept many coaches up late at night.
When the Giants coaches would move him down from his defensive end spot and line him up over the offensive guard, he was just deadly good and fun to watch. Most guards could not handle his quickness. Strahan, playing inside at tackle, forced me to change my view of scouting defensive tackles. No longer would I search for short and stubby players, but now I wanted the "long, linear player" who could play with a low center of gravity and create havoc inside. When players alter your way of scouting, then you know they are truly remarkable.
Strahan's game consisted of great quickness combined with power. He had balance, the competitive fire each week and, most critically, he was always in top condition. Like a great prize fighter, he wore his opponent down. In fact, last year in the playoffs, at the ripe old age of 36, with most of the players that played with him on the 1993 Senior Bowl team already out of football, Strahan played like he was in his prime. Whether it was in the heat in Tampa, the humidity in Dallas or the bitter cold in Green Bay, Strahan's play was still sensational.
The Giants will miss him -- the corners will miss the bad decisions Strahan forced QBs to make, his fellow defensive linemen will miss the extra sacks they picked up because of the attention he drew, but I think Osi Umenyiora will miss him the most. A new way of life in the NFL is about to begin for Umenyiora as he will face new schemes, new protections and garner all the attention in those Monday and Tuesday night sessions.