The article above is a pretty decent piece on the importance of the Left Tackle position. Cole discusses how the role is being diminished in today's NFL. That got me to thinking about the Left Tackle position and the revolutions it has made throughout the years.The first evolution the Left Tackle position made was around the mid to late 80's. Up until the arrival of a certain player, the Left Tackle was just another position on the Offensive Line. Up until this new era of football, the Left Tackle was no more important than any other player on the field. They did not have to posses the athletic ability and physical strength that they posses today. In this new era of football the Left Tackle had to have one of the quickest pairs of feet on the field and had to have a great blend of speed and power. What caused this new era of football? The better question is who. Lawrence Taylor, arguably the best defensive player to ever play the game (no disrespect to Reggie White), forced NFL coaches and GM's to change their style of play and how they built their teams. Lawrence Taylor was literally a sack machine, going double digits in that category every year from 1984 through 1990. Giants fans tend to realize the importance and impact that Lawrence Taylor had in each game he played, but it's hard to grasp how important he was to the NFL on the whole.
Suddenly the 80's became an era of pass rushers, LT, Howie Long, Reggie White, Bruce Smith, and many more began to cause havoc for opposing offenses and it seemed that this new era of defensive players were stronger and more athletic than ever. These pass rushers also came predominately from the left side because this was the "blind side" for most QB's because they were right handed. Teams had never seen such incredible athletes and at first were overwhelmed by these incredible pass rushers. But the nature of the NFL is to adjust to new trends and soon the defense against these potent defenses were athletes that could step up and shut down these pass rushers. The Left Tackle position was suddenly extremely important and stock in that position sky rocketed. The first player to really step up was Anthony Munoz who is pretty much the consensus best Left Tackle to ever play the game. Since he came into the league in 1980 he was a bit ahead of the curve as far as lineman go. Munoz was an All-Pro eleven years running and could essentially shut down a team's pass rush single handedly. He is the father of Left Tackles that came after him such as Johnathan Odgen and Orlando Pace. These men became the answer to the potent pass rushers that had consumed the league.
One of the biggest match-ups that would be looked at previous to a game would be how a team's top Defensive End/ Outside Linebacker matched up with the other teams Left Tackle. The winner of this match-up had a clear cut advantage in the game and a much better chance of victory. Guys like Joe Jacoby (who was a dreaded member of "The Hogs", which was the absolutely dominate O-Line the Skins possessed during 80's), were major factors in their teams winning Super Bowls. The Redskins happened to win three during their time of dominate O-Line play. Jacoby also stood at 6'7 and weighed 305 pounds, leading the trend of having larger, quicker Lineman in the NFL.
But now, as Jason Cole points out, the Left Tackle position is on a decline value wise. Cole contributes the decrease of importance to a quicker QB release and rules that favor the offense, and he isn't wrong. Guys like Brees and Rodgers have crazy fast release times and that alone can neutralize a good pass rush. But Brees, Rodgers, Brady and Manning are top tier Quarter Backs and most QB's don't have these crazy release times. So there has to be a reason the Left Tackle position is not at the premium that it once was. Well if you want to see where the evolution of the Left Tackle came from (again), lets look at our New York Giants.
The New York Giants have one of the most versatile and diverse pass rushes in the league, and they've had this since the 2007 season in which they won the Super Bowl. In 2007, the Giants had pass rushers coming from all sides. Michael Strahan led the D-Line for the Giants in 2007 and came from the right side of the Offensive Line, something most top DE's didn't seem to do. With a guy like Strahan (and later Tuck) coming from the right side and guys like Osi (and later JPP) coming from the left, Offensive Lines had to learn to protect their QB from both sides, not just the blind side. Soon other teams followed suit on doubling up on pass rushers. The Eagles have Trent Cole and Jason Babin. The Vikings had Jared Allen and Ray Edwards for a while. The 49'ers had Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. The Texans and Broncos are putting together strong pass rushes themselves. Even colleges like LSU and Texas are doubling up pass rushers, Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo representing LSU and Alex Okafor and Jeff Jeffcoat representing Texas. South Carolina platooned Devin Taylor, Marcus Ingram, and Jadeveon Clowney, creating a very successful pass rush.
With all these pass rushers coming from all over the place, the Left Tackle position is no longer one of the most prized positions on the field. With guys like Jared Allen, Mario Williams, and Justin Tuck lining up over the Right Tackle, you can't have just one elite tackle anymore. Why did guys like John Martin (a LT) fall in the draft this year when Riley Reiff (a RT) ended up getting picked ahead of him? Because it doesn't matter if they play the left or right side anymore. A Right Tackle has just as much value and a Left Tackle does now, because with the plethora of pass rushers coming from all over the place, both Tackles have to be damn good. In the near future, the best Tackle in the league may not be a Left Tackle. The best Tackle in the league may end up blocking the likes of Tuck and Mario because that is where the team's best DE is located. Our O-Line was awful last year, and they were awful before Beatty went down. Beatty was on the left side, holding up pretty well, yet we still had problems getting the run game going and keeping Eli clean. Kareem McKenzie could not handle the pass rushers that came from the right side because now a days good teams can bring pressure from both sides, not just one.
So the game is changing right before our eyes, and soon both Tackle positions will probably be of equal value, just like they were before Lawrence Taylor came into the game. Funny how history kind of repeats itself. I wrote this up because I love the Offensive Line and even played Left Tackle for a while (though at 220 pounds you have to wonder what my coach was thinking). As Giants fans this is very important to us. Other teams are going to really start bringing the heat. Not only do we have to rely on Beatty to hold up, but we have to have high expectations for whoever is manning the right side as well. I'm not comfortable having Dehil protect Eli from the right side, but is Brewer developed yet? I think this is going to be the most important story line for our team this year. Hopefully Pat can get Brewer to develop and use his physical tools to protect Eli from the right side. After all, the caliber of both Tackles can make or break our season.
I found it funny that Jason Cole referenced Rex Ryan as an expert on successful pass rushes in this era of football. The Jets had an awful pass rush over the past couple years and these "overload" blitzes that Cole mentions don't exactly seem to be working for them. If you want an example of how to get to a QB in this day and age it'd be preferable to mention the Giants, Eagles, or 49'ers.