The Packers, reading this key, play it a little differently from other clubs in the league. It would be worth your while to watch the strong-side flank of the Packers defending against a run—specifically, the defensive end and the corner linebacker. In a normal defense, once the running key becomes evident, the linebacker crosses the line of scrimmage, intent on stopping the play there. This sets him up perfectly for a block by the guard who leads the play. The Packer corner backer, either Forester or Currie, does not cross the line, and consequently is harder to block. Each man is equally fast, although, according to Packer Defensive Coach Phil Bengtson, Forester, who is 29 years old now, probably was faster than Currie a few years ago. "Now," says Bengtson, "they are just about the same speed. And both of them can do everything a corner linebacker should do."
"Against a run inside, the corner linebacker becomes a defensive end and closes down the line," Bengtson said last week. "Against a sweep, he has to cover to the outside. When the tight end is on his side, he has the responsibility of chugging the end [knocking him out of his intended pattern by shoving him at line of scrimmage], then dropping out into the flat to cover against a sideline pass. Against some offensive patterns, he might have to drop back 10 yards into the area where the quarterback might throw a pass to a hooking end."
Student of the possible
Currie, who has learned his trade well, thinks a great deal about his responsibilities as a corner linebacker and studies opposing teams carefully. "It takes three or four years before you can play this position well," he said in Palo Alto. "We get the defense and lineup, and always I go over the situation: the down, the yardage, the personnel, the score, how late it is in the game. After a few years of looking at the same clubs you begin to understand the pattern of thinking of the quarterback. You know that Conerly, for instance, will throw to Kyle Rote in a clutch. You know that, but you have to discount it a little, too. The game [two weeks ago] against the Giants was a perfect example. When Conerly came in, all of us figured he would try to pick the defense apart—call draws, short passes, hooks, that kind of thing. Instead he threw three bombs."
The three long passes Conerly threw were so far out of his normal pattern of tactical thinking that they had the Packers deep backs scrambling desperately. With just a little luck—the Giants dropped two good passes—they were able to prevent a score.
Forester, more conservative than Currie, makes a conscious effort not to depend on a pattern.
"I think about the situation and what the club we're playing has done in other games, but I never depend on it," he says. Forester is a rather quiet, slow-speaking Texan who played college football at Southern Methodist. He is in his ninth season as a pro—three of them All-Pro. "I try to react to the play as it develops," he went on. "You can tell in a second if it's going to be a pass or a run, and you've got time to carry out your assignment then. When you try to anticipate you can get in trouble. Like in the championship game against the Eagles last year."
The Eagles had scored once on the Packers on a slant-out pass from deep in Packer territory. They had penetrated deep again; the down, the position on the field and the tactical situation were almost the same as on the earlier play.
"I remembered the slant-out," Forester said. "I figured they would try it again, and I watched the end for a split second and then saw the sweep coming. But by then the end had an outside position and could block me. The sweep went all the way for a touchdown because I tried to anticipate and I was wrong." The moment of hesitation that put Forester out of position is the bugaboo of a corner linebacker.
"You don't have enough margin of error to allow for hesitation," Currie says. "You have to be able to execute your assignment instantly. The unpardonable sin in pro football is to blow an assignment. You should never make a mental error; you should always know what you're going to do and do it immediately. The whole idea of the offense is to create that moment of doubt in your mind, to cause hesitation that allows a blocker to get to you or a pass receiver to get the step or so he needs to beat you."