Not to be outdone last season by the Hogs, the Fun Bunch and the Smurfs, the Washington Redskins linebacker corps named themselves the Blue Collar Crew, issuing titles like the Foreman, the Mechanic, the Construction Worker and the Apprentice to the starting four. Mostly, though, they went about their business as usual.
"The crew didn't even give me a name," said Larry Peccatiello, the Redskins defensive coordinator and linebacker coach. "Maybe they thought I wasn't a blue collar type of guy. I guess the names they all call me can't be used in print anyway."
Rich (the Foreman) Milot, who inherited the right outside linebacker position from Chris Hanburger as a rookie out of Penn State in 1979, said all the crew hopes to do as a unit is keep it low-key and get the job done, something they accomplished rather nicely last season, particularly during the stretch drive to the Super Bowl.
The NFL linebacker's job requires not only a hard charge, but the speed and agility to prowl the twilight zone that is the defensive secondary.
"The job of the linebacker has changed somewhat from 10 or 15 years ago when you had players like Dick Butkus and Sam Huff," said Milot, who was a strong safety at Penn State before converting to linebacker when he was drafted by the Redskins in the seventh round in 1979.
"I don't think you can just kill people at the line of scrimmage anymore because there are just so many offenses you have to prepare for. Nobody comes out offensively with the basic look anymore.You have to be able to think and to relax. You have to know when to take your shots at people because you can't just batter somebody all day. You have to know when to really hit someone and intimidate him, but also when to sit back and play with finesse."
The most obvious change in his role is his responsibility to cover the pass as well as the run. Neal (the Mechanic) Olkewicz, the Redskins middle linebacker, said, "The duties of the linebacker have changed almost completely since I first started playing. There is so much expected of the position now, especially when it comes to pass coverage. In the old days, linebackers primarily were the tough guys who plugged up the holes. Now, we have to do that and pick up the pass, too."
Unlike most NFL teams who use a 3-4 defense (three down linemen, four linebackers), the Redskins use a more traditional 4-3. Olkewicz plays against the rush better than any other linebacker on the team. Yet, because he's less adept covering wide receivers and backs coming out of the backfield, Peccatiello usually pulls him out in passing situations and puts in a defensive back or a linebacker better suited to protect against the pass, creating a nickel defense.
"You're seeing more role players," Peccatiello said, "meaning we're playing down and distance with the offense. When it's a running situation, we have certain people who we feel are best against the run, not that the offense won't pass in that situation anyway. But percentagewise, all situations warrant a certain type of linebacker."
Monte (the Construction Worker) Coleman, who started at left outside linebacker before hurting his shoulder against the New York Giants last year, played strong safety at Central Arkansas but was drafted to play linebacker.
"He came in at only 209 pounds," said Mike Allman, director of player personnel. "We put him on the weights and the training table and his body just responded to it. He weighs about 230 now and became a great linebacker. Because of his background as a strong safety, he's especially effective against the pass."
After the injury, Coleman was replaced by Mel (the Apprentice) Kaufman, who opened camp this year as the starter. Although Kaufman has missed the last few practices with a minor neck injury, temporarily thrusting Coleman into the starting position, Peccatiello said "the keen sense of competition is most definitely there between Mel and Monte but it can only be good for the guys. Monte's trying to win the job he lost when he got hurt. And Mel's trying to keep what he's got."
Blue collar guys Coleman and Kaufman are roommates and best friends. "The competition stays on the field only," Coleman said. "We never take it off. We like each other too much."