The NFL Linebacker is the rarest of breeds
They don't laugh maniacally when the ball is in play. You'll never hear a "Bwa-ha-ha" coming from Ray Lewis or James Laurinaitis. What chills the bones of a ball carrier is: The Glint. That's right, linebackers have a glint in their eyes. Ok, it's not exactly a true glint, because it contains no hint of peace on earth. It's more like a Hannibal Lector glint, fixed with laser-like precision on the ball carriers liver.
When you think linebacker, think of a General. Patton would be a middle linebacker. Outside linebacker? Think Rommel or Genghis Khan...
The Rams have historically had excellent linebackers. Those that have made their mark on the history of the NFL, with the exception of Isaiah Robertson, have done so by being strong against the run. Though a few could hold their ground against the short pass, very few fit the modern day formula of what an NFL linebacker is today, especially at the outside linebacker position. The middle linebacker has stayed constant for the most part, though a strong intellect has become more invaluable to the position. Offenses have become incredibly complex. So by extension, the ability to quickly analyze and adjust has become the mark of a middle linebacker's success or failure.
The outside linebacker is a position in constant evolution. The change at this position started not with Lawrence Taylor(Giants - 1981 to 1993), but with men like Isaiah Robertson (Rams - 1971 to 1978). The size and speed needs at the position changed with offenses like San Diego's "Air Coryell" (1978 to 1986). The OLB had to expand their responsibilities. Multiple wide receiver sets and tight ends like Kellen Winslow who were more like a true wide receiver than the pass catching offensive tackles of the days of yore. Speed became an OLB's greatest asset and weapon. Isaiah Robertson, quite argueable the greatest Ram outside linebacker in Ram history, played the position in the 70s (1971 to 1978). If you missed seeing him play, you missed seeing the game of professional football evolving first hand. He must have driven his coaches crazy at first. Here was a guy that quite literally was EVERYWHERE on the field. When he rushed the quarterback, he did so with the speed of a safety or cornerback, but had the power to make a running back who stayed in to block cry for his mommy.
Even the fans were slow to pick up on how great Isaiah was, because he didn't look like other linebackers. He didn't look like Dick Butkus (Bears - 1965 to 1973)or Willie Lanier Kansas City - (1967 to 1977), big, thick, angry missiles waiting to explode. Isaiah had a thin waist and long legs. At 6' 3" and 225 lbs, he was not only a sure tackler, but he had 25 interceptions... Think about that for a second. Teams not only ran away from his rushing ability, they actually avoided passing anywhere near him. He was also part of the best Ram linebacker trio in team history: Isaiah, Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds and Jim Youngblood (Rams - 1973 to 1984).
The linebackers in years to come will study Isaiah Robertson.
Then we have the hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end. Look at the Ram's Kevin Greene (Rams - 1985 to 1992) as an example. Kevin could change the look of a defense by simply going from hand in the dirt to standing up. He played both OLB and DE in his career, depending whether he was playing in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense. His coaches changed the name of the defense, but Kevin really never had to change how he played. I'll always remember Kevin Greene for his style of play and personality. He was a wild man on the field and one of the happiest players I ever saw off the field. He had fun.
We've had some awesome middle linebackers during the history of the Rams. They always seemed to have a short tenure with the team though? With the exception of Jack "Hacksaw" Renolds who stayed with the team for 10 seasons (1970-1980), most moved on fairly quick. Hacksaw was a character. He got his nickname in 1969 when he sawed a '53 Chevy Bel Air in half in college to work off some frustrations after his team (University of Tennessee) got embarrassed by Ole' Miss, 38-0. All night and 13 hacksaw blades later, one of the best football nicknames ever came into being. Hacksaw was a absolute beast in the middle of the field. You remember Mike Singletary's eyes right before the snap? Kind of psyco right? Well Hacksaw's whole body looked that way. He looked ready to explode.
I could go on and on about the amazing linebacker legacy of the Rams. James Laurinaitis (Rams - 2009 to present) is the first part of what I hope will be the next great Rams linebacker corp. He definitely has the star linebacker gene.
Here is a list of a few of the great Ram linebackers of the past. Have a look at them when you get a chance. When you do, you'll see that the Rams were, and can still be, the home of the great NFL linebackers. Don't forget today's challenge at the bottom of this post!
Maxie Baughan (1966-70)
London Fletcher (1998-01)
Kevin Greene (1985-92)
Jack Pardee (1957-64; 66-70)
Don Paul (1948-55)
Myron Pottios (1966-70)
Jack Reynolds (1970-80)
Les Richter (1954-62)
Isiah Robertson (1971-78)
Jim Youngblood (1973-84)
Carl Ekern (1976-88)
Jim Collins (1981-88)
Mike Wilcher - olb(1983-90)
Ken Geddes (1971-75)
Shane Conlan (1993-95) Ram MVP in 1994 - Played 5 years for the Bills before coming to the Rams
Mel Owens (1981-89)
George Andrews (1979 to 84)
Bob Brudzinski - (1977-80) walked out 2/3 into 1980 season (traded to Miami)
The challenge for today? JL55 owns the middle of the Rams defense. Who would you pick, from EVERY linebacker in the history of professional football, from any team, to have on the field with him? Have fun!