Learning by Rote
Kyle Rote of the Giants has the deep respect of Currie. "He's a deceptive runner on pass patterns," Currie says. "He comes downfield slow and makes a slow head-and-shoulders fake to the outside and lulls you. Then he plants his right foot and makes his break, and if you aren't used to playing against him he breaks clear with that extra speed."
Rote dropped one of Conerly's passes in the game against the Packers earlier this year. This lapse could be credited to what the Packers call their howler defense. "Rote had a step on the defensive halfback," Currie said. "Then just as the ball got to him, the back hollered at Rote. He took his eye off the ball for an instant and dropped it. It doesn't work against Rote very often, but as a last resort you try anything."
In the same game Rote caught a pass because he faked Currie into hesitating. "I dropped back toward the sideline to cover," Currie said. "For just a second I thought Rote would run a turn-in—a pattern where he goes straight downfield then turns into the middle. I hesitated and he turned out, and by the time I had recovered and gone after him the ball was thrown and I missed knocking it down by a couple of feet."
Since their assignment often requires them to tackle the best ballcarriers on the opposing teams, the corner linebackers make a serious study of the running habits of the backs.
"We looked at movies of Jim Brown over and over before we played Cleveland," Currie said. "Of course, he is a great runner. He does one thing that gets him extra yardage time and again, and we saw it in the movies. He gets hit—a good tackle, arms around his legs—then he relaxes and the tackier relaxes and Brown steps out of his arms and goes on. Jim Taylor goes on after he is hit, but he does it differently. Just as a tackler comes up to hit Jim, he seems to coil up and explode. He takes the impact on his thighs. He hits so hard it seems to stun the tackler, and Jim uses the rebound from the tackle to take off in another direction. He has tremendous leg drive."
To an observer it would appear that the hardest play for a corner linebacker to cover would be the halfback option pass, the play in which a halfback takes a hand-off, swings wide to the strong side, then either throws or runs, depending upon the reaction of the defense.
"That's not too bad," Currie says. "The corner linebacker has to play it like a run. You have to come across and force the play, make the halfback throw. The guy who has a tough job on that play is the safety on that side. The tight end blocks, and the safety reads 'run' and comes up fast; then the tight end slips off the block and goes into the hole left by the safety coming up. If the halfback has time he can hit the end in the clear. It's tough for the safety to recover and get back in time to knock down that pass."
The overall Packer defense is called from the sidelines by the very knowledgeable Bengtson. But within the defensive pattern that Bengtson calls, Currie and Willie Davis (the defensive end on his side, with whom he works very carefully), devise their own small stratagems, while Forester and Bill Quinlan on the other side work out their own tricks.
"We'll switch off now and then," Currie says. "I may take the inside and Willie the outside or vice versa. We try to avoid setting up a pattern that the offense can read, just like offensive quarterbacks try to avoid developing a pattern in calling plays. If we can mess up the blocking assignments, it's a help."