On Aug. 7, in Canton, Ohio, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator and former Detroit Lions defensive back Dick LeBeau will arrive to remove the cover of mortality from his bronzed likeness and usher his accomplishments as an athlete and coach into the realm of immortality (LeBeau was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the fifth round). First and foremost, I usually don’t get mushy, especially about men who earn more money in a year than I will probably rake in a lifetime but economic issues aside, Coach LeBeau is truly a good guy. Not the kind of fella that speaks to you when the cameras are rolling but forgets your name as soon as the lights grow dim. Dick LeBeau is a gentleman and a scholar and the current athletes plying their trade in professional football should maybe study some of his “life film” on how to maintain a solid work ethic and professionalism on and off the gridiron. I have covered LeBeau for over two decades and as an old politician I knew from Lawrenceville. The late magistrate John J. Fiorucci used to say, “He won’t change on you, he’ll bring you change.”
Dick LeBeau was steady as a player and if it is possible, more steady as a coach. During his Hall-of-Fame career he amassed 62 picks and played in 171 games. In these days of aggravated “hammies,” wow!
From the beginning LeBeau proved that you could be born excellent but if you displayed the right attitude and adopted the right work regimen you could be the sculptor of your own greatness.
Why the delay in voting and inducting LeBeau into the NFL Hall-of-Fame? Just being the father of the zone blitz should have assured that Coach LeBeau should have been given the red carpet treatment into Canton and immortalized over a decade ago.
This zone blitz isn’t just some ordinary defensive fly-by-night scheme that can be figured out and exploited after a series or two.
The zone blitz is a “mad hatter” defensive format that will have offensive coordinators, offensive linemen, quarterbacks, hell everybody who lines up on the offensive side of the ball wishing that they had gotten their degree in botanical science as opposed to strapping on shoulder pads on Sundays.
In case you are not aware and for those of you that are, let’s go over some basic principles in regards to how the zone blitz affects and in some cases, ends games quickly if not dissected in a timely fashion.
In the golden days of the NFL, when a quarterback approached the line of scrimmage and saw a linebacker or defensive back in a position that indicated that a blitz was forthcoming, that would also usually point toward the fact that the area that the defender was exiting would be vacant. The next step in the sequence would be the “Bambi” and “Big Bad Wolf” sequence. The eyes of the signal caller would then become as big as a deer in the headlights and the QB would begin drooling at the mouth like a wolf in a maternity ward for baby sheep.
With the invention of the zone blitz the area vacated by one member of the defense was now filled by another member of the defense in a twinkling of an eye.
The tricky part for the offense to decipher is where the aggressor is coming from and what player will fill the vacancy.
LeBeau has even expanded on the zone blitz with the “25” defense. The “25” defense consists of two down linemen with the remainder of the defense standing up and “innocently” milling around the line of scrimmage identifying pre-snap flaws in the offensive formation just prior to perpetrating their madness. In this case there is more than one defensive player licking their chops and chances are quarterbacks who formerly drooled at facing a standard blitzing defense will now more than likely be licking their wounds after Coach LeBeau or any other coach correctly mimicking his defensive concept “unleashes the hounds.” Dick LeBeau is and shall always remain an athletic institution. A millennium from now when the memories of the NFL and the exploits of the leagues extra-ordinaries enshrined in Canton are but a whisper into the ears of time, someone somewhere will remember coach and player Dick LeBeau. For one to see and even chronicle his great deeds as a player and some would argue even greater deeds, as a coach is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Go to Canton even if you can’t get a ticket. Be there to see and feel the spirit of a man who has worked for and earned the label of one of professional football’s greatest ever.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-583-6741.)