Alex Karras (see cover), who earns his livelihood as a defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions, stands 6 feet 2 and weighs 250 pounds. He is a giant by any standards other than pro football's. He is, however, a runt among pro football tackles, many of whom weigh 25 to 30 pounds more and are an inch or two taller. But Karras is enormously strong for his size—he has the arms and chest and shoulders of a 300-pounder. Even so, he must use guile rather than weight to carry out a defensive tackle's job: rushing the quarterback. Merlin Olsen of the Los Angeles Rams, being abundantly equipped with size, strength and 275 pounds, plays the same position differently. And Henry Jordan, long the key man in the great Packer defensive line, has still another approach. The pictures on these pages and the story that follows define the job and discuss the problems that beset both the Lilliputians and the Brobdingnagians of pro football's defensive tackles.
NUANCES OF THE INSIDE PASS-RUSH
"Pass-rush is the game I play," says Detroit's Alex Karras, one of the three best defensive tackles in pro football. "If you can't get to the passer, you're in trouble. If you can't get to Bart Starr, for example, he'll kill you. The Packers may hurt you running and they do a lot, but the big thing you have to do as a defensive tackle is to get to the passer."
Karras is a studious defensive tackle who spends hours during the week looking at movies of the play of the offensive guard he will face Sunday. "For a time, the guards figured I always liked an outside route," he said. "Some of them even got in the habit of taking an extra step to the outside to make sure they could cut me off. I didn't realize myself that I had settled into that pattern until I watched movies of me."
After analyzing the movies, Karras started faking to the outside and breaking back to the inside, and he has been notably successful, except against Alex Sandusky, the offensive guard of the Baltimore Colts.
"He gives me more trouble than any other guard in the league," Karras says frankly. "I study him in the movies and I figure out what he has figured out I am going to do, then I do something else. Like the outside route. I would really rather have an inside route to the passer because that's the shortest, and I figure you only have maybe between three and four seconds to get to the quarterback, anyway. We don't have inside and outside defenses on the Lions [where both tackles will close to the inside but sometimes loop to the outside, depending upon the middle linebacker to close the hole in the middle of the line]. We get to the passer the best way we can, and we don't depend on the middle linebacker to protect us. So when I found out I was favoring the outside, I thought, against Sandusky, I'd fake to the outside and come back and catch him. He's short and quick and he has great balance and agility and good anticipation, but I was sure he would be playing me wide. But he had been looking at the movies, too, and I found out he was closing to the inside and giving me the outside."
Karras has extremely bad eyesight and wears thick glasses off the field, but he wears no glasses when he is playing, so that he sometimes has trouble recognizing the player across the line of scrimmage from him. His brother, Ted Karras, plays offensive guard for the Chicago Bears. Luckily for the Karras brothers, Alex and Ted usually play on opposite sides of the line, so that they rarely meet face to face.
"I usually get Roger Davis when we play Chicago," Alex says. "I know it's Davis from the movies, since I can't see him well enough to tell at the line of scrimmage. One game, Davis is holding and elbowing and I got tired of it, and I told him, 'You do that once more and it's me and you.' So he held me again on the next play, and I decided to straighten him out."
On the following play Karras devoted all of his attention to punishing the guard in front of him. Since he is an enormously strong man, he knocked the guard down and stepped on him. When the play was over, the guard climbed painfully to his feet and looked at Alex angrily. "Are you nuts, Alex?" he said. "I'm your brother."
"The Bears flopped the guards," Alex says. "I didn't know it was Ted until it was all over. He was pretty mad at me for a while."