MORGANTOWN — Gil Brandt, the man who put the Dallas Cowboys together back when they really were the Dallas Cowboys and is considered one of the great personnel directors in NFL history, recently put together a list of the greatest defensive tackles of all-time for NFL.com.
Now normally, you don’t think of defensive tackles as the glory boys of football, be it professional or college. That goes to linebackers and defensive ends who are the spectacular pass rushers or to the safeties or cornerbacks who make their names picking off passes.
But when you look at this list you realize that great defenses must have great defensive tackles.
Think about those who were on Brandt’s list and another list that was compiled that cited the Top 10 defenses in NFL history:
The No. 1 defense was the 1995 Chicago Bears, “The Monsters of the Midway” who were anchored by William “Refrigerator” Perry at defensive tackle off Brandt’s list; the No. 2 defense was Pittsburgh’s 1976 “Steel Curtain” defense which featured “Mean” Joe Greene, who doubled as the world’s best Coca-Cola salesman, too; the No. 5 defense was Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl champion 2002 Buccaneers with Warren Sapp at D-tackle.
No. 6 was Minnesota’s 1969 “Purple People Eaters” who had opponents crying “Here comes the judge!” as its renowned D-line featured Alan Page, who went on to become a judge; that same year, the Kansas City Chiefs beat Minnesota in the Super Bowl with both Buck Buchanan and Curly Culp among Brandt’s Top 10 defensive tackles of all-time leading them to the No. 7 spot on the list of Best NFL Defenses ever.
And, think of this, Bob Lilly of the Cowboys was No. 1 on Brandt’s list and he was the force behind Dallas’ “Doomsday Defense I” from 1966 to 1974, and Randy White was No. 4 from the Cowboys’ “Doomsday Defense II” from 1975 to 1982, replacing Lilly so they never missed a beat and seldom were beaten.
We offer this up not necessarily as a primer on NFL defenses but on the importance of having strong defensive tackles, which well may translate into the strength of this year’s West Virginia football team that is currently going through spring practice.
Now it’s difficult to imagine that WVU can graduate the Big 12’s Defensive Lineman of the Year and one of the most decorated defensive linemen in Mountaineer history as Darius Stills moves on to the NFL and still have the position as its greatest strength, yet that may just be the case.
WVU not only returns Dante Stills, Darius’ younger, but no less effective brother, along with last year’s freshman sensation Akheem Mesidor.
That is the mother lode of defensive tackles ... maybe put better as mother “load” as both are big and strong and quick. Stills stands 6-4 and weighs 280 while Mesidor was an AP freshman All-American last year at 6-2, 268 but is still a growing lad who has been working overtime in the weight room to get bigger.
“Honestly,” says defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley, who last year coached the D-line so he has up-close and personal knowledge of the personnel, “we’re really trying to play with two D-tackles. There’s not a traditional nose guard, which is no different than what we’ve been doing. That’s the way we played Darius, too.”
In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
“Akheem is a little heavier this year. He’s having to adjust carrying the extra weight,” Jordan said. “He really doesn’t look that much different, but he’s carrying extra work, which is a good thing.”
With all three playing for WVU last year Stills, Stills and Mesidor (and no, that is neither a singing group nor law firm, although there were some offenses that wanted to file suit against them last season) WVU finished No. 7 in defense against the rush and No. 3 overall, ranking No. 1 against the pass.
Certainly, the improvement they expect to take place in Dante Stills and Mesidor should more than make up for the loss of Darius Stills.
Mesidor, as good as he was last season as he played both defensive end and tackle while also taking some plays standing up like a linebacker, has a lot of room to improve with experience and more coaching. What he did last year, while sometimes incredulous, was mostly built off his natural talent.
“He’s got some fundamental things he’s got to learn playing more inside than outside, but I think if you look at his body type and his attributes and what he’s good at, his future definitely is as a defensive tackle.”
What you figure to wind up with on the defensive line is Mesidor in more of a nose tackle position like Darius Stills was, Dante at his outside tackle spot and playing defensive end Jeffrey Pooler Jr., but you won’t see that this spring as Pooler is rehabbing an injury and not taking part in on-field drills this spring.
Playing the interior tackle position last year, Darius Stills was able to stand out and drew a great deal of extra attention from the offense, that accounted for him on every play and managed to cut down his statistics while the other linemen and linebackers were freed up to make plays.
Mesidor is the same kind of player and with a year under his belt and more muscle he should also demand extra attention this year.
“It’s a lot like last year,” Lesley said. “If he’s going to garner more attention from an offense by protection or where they’re running the football, the other guys running in have got to step up, period. Darius was the same way and Dante has got to be the same way.
“One thing about Akheem is that Akheem loves football. I can always say that about him. He’s a guy who doesn’t count reps. If you’re doing 1-on-1 pass drills, he doesn’t count. He doesn’t say, ‘Well, I’ve done two, maybe I should go out.’ He’s not one of those guys who goes, ‘I’ve done enough.’ He’s just ‘Oh, nobody wants to go? I’ll go.’ That’s what makes him and is going to make him so good.”
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