He revolutionized the outside linebacker spot, playing a rush linebacker who at times moved to end in a four-man front. He was too quick for tackles who tried to block him and too strong for running backs who had to pick him up when he blitzed. Frustrated opponents tried combination blocks, which meant assigning a bunch of guys to him and hoping for the best. The unexpected part of Taylor's game, and the move he took the most pride in, was the power rush, which always shocked people playing against him for the first time. A 245-pound linebacker isn't supposed to throw 300-pounders aside.
I saw him make the greatest play I've ever seen by a defensive player, against the Redskins at Giants Stadium in November 1983. LT blitzed, and Joe Jacoby, Washington's 300-pound All-Pro left tackle, tried to pick him up. Taylor grabbed him by the pads and threw him, flushing quarterback Joe Theismann out of the pocket. George Starke, the right tackle, peeled back to throw a block, but Taylor knocked him to the ground without breaking stride. Then Taylor caught Theismann 15 yards down-field. That's 560 pounds of linemen he disposed of and a quarterback with 4.6 speed he ran down.
Everyone knows about his pain threshold. In the Rams' Super Bowl year of 1979 he played most of the playoffs with a fractured left fibula. He missed one game in a 14-year career. He played the power side even though he was undersized at 242 pounds and in coach Ray Malavasi's system he had to play head-up on the tackle a lot and stop the run first. Yet he ranks on Turney's list as the fifth-leading sacker, mainly thanks to as complete an assortment of moves as any defensive end ever had. His game was built on speed, leverage and angles.
When coach John Robinson brought in the 3-4 defense, in 1983, Youngblood, who occasionally had been allowed the luxury of splitting wide for his rush on passing downs, was trapped inside. Offensive tackles were getting bigger and bigger, too. "It seems that they're all coming out rubber-stamped 6'6", 280," he said. Yet Young-blood collected a total of 20 sacks in his last two seasons.
His sack totals have been slipping recently, but for many years he and White were the NFL's premier pass rushers. In Buffalo, Smith played the right side, the sacking side, and his trademark move was a swift upfield rush followed by a burst inside. He was a master at setting up a lineman, then shocking him with a lightning spin, rip or swim move. A conditioning nut, he built his game on speed and endurance. At times the Bills played him inside, often over the nose, to capitalize on his quick-strike ability.
The giveback was his vulnerability to traps and draws, and it became a point of honor with him to improve his techniques. But we're talking about sackers here, and Smith, 37, has been one of the game's most feared rushers for more than a decade.
DALLAS TEXANS, COLTS