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So, who are the recruits in this army of superstars? These are the linebackers we feel are the best, the most interesting and the underrated, and this is the way the scouts evaluate their strengths and, yes, weaknesses:
THE BLUEST OF THE BLUE-CHIPPERS
Lawrence Taylor, Giants—No. 1. Can and has turned games around singlehandedly. Has the speed to get there, then the crunch. Must be awarded special attention. Plays better in unstructured situations, either by design or circumstance. Had an odd year in '84. Seems to have regressed somewhat...less willing to play within the defensive framework. One technical weakness: If he flies out to the flat and then has to retreat for a back hooking inside him, he might miss the tackle.
Clay Matthews and Chip Banks, Browns—The best pair in football. Matthews coming off his finest year in NFL. Had his most sacks ever (12). Takes great pride in man coverage. Only negative: injury history—broken ankle, broken arm. Banks came back from off-year in '83. Low sack total last season (2½) misleading. Fine blitzer but comes from strong side. Plays inside backer in goal-line defenses and one of the best at it. Slight problem with cut blocks, based on his size (6'4"). Interesting to see how he plays in '85 after club tried to trade him in the maneuvering for Bernie Kosar.
Tom Jackson, Broncos—Best in big-money games. Swiftest in the league (4.55) when he came up in '73 and picked up smarts as speed dropped. Was written off when two-TE offense came in, but he destroys blocking angles with his quickness, blasting in from weak side. In '84 had the finest of his last five years.
Hugh Green, Bucs—1984 a washout after auto accident. Made his mark playing in John McKay's controlled zone concepts, but expect big fireworks this year when he's turned loose under Leeman Bennett's former Atlanta Grits Blitz LB coach, Doug Shively. Should have dominating year.
Rod Martin, Raiders—Ranges all over the field, though he slipped a little in '84. Groin injury probably worse than they're letting on.
Mike Douglass, Packers—Undersized but effective vs. the run because of moves and great athletic skill. Sideline-to-sideline ability. Can make the big free-lance play. Effective blitzer. Power teams try to wear him down.
Keena Turner, 49ers—Finally recognized in '84 after years of top-level open-field football. Plays in open areas better than anyone. Fine coverage and ball instincts. Only LB on field in dime defense, and offenses try to run at him.
Andre Tippett, Patriots—The Lawrence Taylor of the AFC. Only OLB who plays as a down lineman on the power (left) side in four-man rush. Devastating hitter. A speed-and-crunch player who can be fooled by misdirection.