An engineering brain equipped with a salesman’s personality. A nakedly honest politician. A creative thinker with a clean car.
Rarities, every one of them, but more common than big, strong, fast, explosive men blessed with excellent endurance and a motor that never stops. In other words, a gifted defensive tackle.
The best in history, men like Lee Roy Selmon and Warren Sapp played what is known as a five technique, a D-lineman who lines up with his nose on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle and completely changes the game.
“God makes five techniques,” Kansas University offensive line coach J.B. Grimes said. “A lot of times, those guys are hard to find because they’re such natural guys. They’re naturally explosive guys. Those things are hard to develop. The good lord makes those kinds of things.”
The good lord makes exceptional defensive tackles and coaches from the SEC and to some extent Big 12 schools from Oklahoma and Texas sign them to letters of intent.
Pulling elite football players out of the South and convincing them to head north presents a difficult challenge, particularly at a position where talent is scarce.
Asked to name the most difficult position to fill in football, Grimes said, “a lockdown corner and a defensive tackle that’s real.”
By real, Grimes meant one who truly fits all the requirements of the position. Defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt discussed those qualities.
“You not only have to be big, you have to be athletic,” Wyatt said. “You’ve got be sudden. You’ve got to react. I always tell people the closer you play to the football, the faster you have to react because the ball’s snapped and everything happens from inside-out.
“You don’t have time to make a mistake and recover. It happens quick. You have to be very instinctive. Your technique has to be perfect, because if it’s not, those big guys get on you and it’s hard to get off them. If you don’t have your hands inside, or if your pads are too high, if you don’t take the proper step, your recovery time is almost nill. You have to be big enough and strong enough to get off the block and you have to be fast enough to chase them down and make a play.”
Wyatt agreed defensive tackle is the toughest position to recruit.
“Everybody’s looking for them,” he said.
Wyatt was at Nebraska during Ndamukong Suh’s sophomore year.
“He was strong, he was mean, and he was sudden,” Wyatt said. “Very explosive. And he could really, really run.”
Perennial powerhouses monopolize massive men who can fly. The best approach for KU is to recruit undersized explosive D-tackles, such as James McClinton.
His relentless motor earned him second-team All-American honors in 2007. He made it easier for linebackers and defensive ends, and in turn, the secondary.
Wyatt remembered McClinton from when he coached at Nebraska and summed him up in one word: “Explosive.” The word doesn’t fit any current KU linemen.
On defense, it all starts up front, where KU’s problems begin.