Greg Landry (left) is a quarterback with a strange fixation. He thinks he is Jimmy Brown. At least it seemed strange to the pros when he came to the Detroit Lions from the University of Massachusetts a few years ago and started running for 76 yards on quarterback draws and making NFL linebackers wish he would fall on his Wishbone. Now they're not so sure. Greg Landry may have something after all.
What he probably has is the pro offense of the future, only he has it right now. Going into last weekend's game, Landry was the 13th best rusher in the NFC with 455 yards, and his 7.6-yard average per carry was the best in the entire league, better than Larry Csonka's, better than Willie Ellison's, who set an alltime single-game record of 247 yards Sunday. Speaking of Sunday, in the Lions' 23-20 loss to Philadelphia, Landry scored two touchdowns while running the ball seven times for 42 yards and completed 14 of 23 passes for 230 yards.
It is this remarkable blend of hand and foot that makes Landry something special, the harbinger of things to come in pro football, the doomsayer of the last days of the dropback passer.
Coincidentally, two of the best of the dropbacks—or, as we may soon be calling them, throwbacks—Joe Namath and Bart Starr (pages 20-21), returned to action a couple of weeks ago, and Johnny Unitas, perhaps the best, started for the second time this season and was his old, archetypical self as the Colts beat the Raiders 37-14. But they may be among the last survivors of a breed that could go the way of the 325-pound middle guard.
"You are going to see a lot of big, running quarterbacks in the next few years," says Joe Schmidt, the head coach of the Lions. "The Wishbone is developing them, so there will be a supply. And a running quarterback really puts a load on the defense."
Schmidt has even installed option plays—the heart of the old split-T formation, the granddaddy of the Wishbone—to take advantage of Landry's running ability. While such quarterbacks as Roger Staubach and Fran Tarkenton are noted for their running, they are essentially scramblers—that is, they run when their receivers are covered or to elude a fierce pass rush. Landry, on the other hand, usually runs by design, calling his own number on the quarterback draw or going wide on the option, and with signal success.
The Lions are probably the only NFL team to use the option. " Steve Owens really makes it go," says Landry. "He keeps the defense honest on the inside. He freezes the linebackers when he fakes up the middle. Then when I swing out, I can either keep the ball or pitch out to Altie Taylor. It puts a terrific burden on the linebackers."
Wayne Walker, the veteran corner linebacker for the Lions, defended against the split T in college and knows as much about the option as anyone, but that is not enough. "There isn't any real answer to it yet," he says. "Especially when you have a quarterback who runs as well as Greg, It's a very disheartening thing for the defense."
The threat Landry poses actually transcends his ability to run. When he drops back to pass, he is far more than a passing threat, like Starr and Namath, for there is always the strong possibility that he will run.
"I was too anxious to run last year," he says. "Then Mike Lucci, our middle linebacker, pointed something out to me. I'd drop back, look for the primary receiver, then run. Lucci told me to wait, look for another receiver, then run. The longer I wait, the deeper the linebackers go with the receivers and the more room I have to run in. I've broken some long ones this year doing that."