Originally Posted by Nors
Good read on creative utilization of players. Can Eric do this?
Klecko still trying to fit in
Versatile player learning LB trade
By Adam Kilgore, Globe Correspondent | August 1, 2004
FOXBOROUGH -- Try to figure out what to call Dan Klecko. Is he a nose tackle? Defensive end? Fullback? Last season he was all three, and this offseason the Patriots added another position to Klecko's list of duties.
The Patriots will use Klecko primarily at inside linebacker this year, the position at which he's been practicing since training camp began Thursday. And since Klecko has never played there before -- not even in Pop Warner -- he's having a busy summer.
"It's like being a rook all over," said Klecko, a second-year player from Temple. "I think I could work on everything. There's not a thing I could say, `Well, I got that down,' at linebacker."
[View Full Quote]But he's coming along thanks to tutelage from Tedy Bruschi, who made a similar transition. At Arizona, Bruschi played defensive line -- as Klecko did at Temple -- and tied the NCAA record for career sacks. When he's having a rough patch, Klecko is buoyed by Bruschi letting him know he experienced the same pitfalls converting to linebacker after playing tackle in college.
And despite having no experience, he wasn't surprised coach Bill Belichick asked him to take up middle linebacker, too.
"After all the stuff I did last year," Klecko said, "I wouldn't be surprised at anything."
At 5 feet 11 inches and 275 pounds, Klecko isn't the prototypical inside linebacker. But Klecko said he's going to stay there.
"I'm like Levon Kirkland," said Klecko with a laugh, referencing the oversized linebacker who once starred with the Steelers. "I hope I can be half the player he was."
The biggest adjustment for Klecko has been the mental transition, which has been like going from arithmetic to calculus. On the defensive line, there's just one or two blockers to worry about. Then it's just finding the ball and making the tackle.
A middle linebacker, though, is the nerve center of a defense, the one who calls out tight ends going in motion and makes sure the grunts in front are in the right spot. Whereas linemen rarely communicate, linebackers constantly bark instructions and signals.
"He's just got to learn the system," said Dean Pees, New England's linebackers coach. "He's coming along pretty well, but that's the biggest thing."
After the ball snaps, though, Klecko feels at home.
"Once you get on a guard," Klecko said, "it's football again."
Klecko has a way of boiling the game down like that, a skill he needed last season when the Patriots wielded him like a Swiss Army knife in shoulder pads. He played in 13 games as a defensive end, defensive tackle, and fullback, and on special teams. His versatility fit Belichick's philosophy perfectly.
"If one guy can do five things the second best on the team, that can have a lot of value," Belichick said. "Versatility and durability are two of the most important things in the National Football League. I don't think they can be overstated. If you do a lot of things pretty well, in the end you probably created more value for the team than if you can just do one thing."
The quintessential Klecko performance came against Tennessee Oct. 5, when Klecko made three tackles behind the line of scrimmage and served as lead blocker for a pair of touchdown runs, something he did on five of New England's nine rushing scores last season.
His size and speed allowed Belichick to use him so liberally, and also convinced the coach to try Klecko inside.
"He's also a very instinctive player," Belichick said. "I think the game comes relatively easily to him, more naturally to him. He picks things up pretty quickly."
He can thank his bloodlines for that. Klecko's father, Joe, played defensive tackle in the NFL from 1977-88, the first 10 seasons for the New York Jets, where he helped form the New York Sack Exchange alongside Mark Gastineau.
"I've kind of been growing up around football my whole life," Klecko said. "I had a pretty good teacher. I understand things a little bit."
That helps explain why Klecko looks natural on a football field, no matter where he is on it.
Maybe it's not so hard to slap a label on Klecko after all. Just call him a football player.
"Dan's a heck of a football player," Pees said. "The guy loves to play. He's fun to coach because he's always wanting to play, wanting to learn. He's a guy you like to have on your team."
Nors we had the #1 defense, we did not sign or draft a lot of big LBS, or NTs, or quick DTs/big DEs. We did not go after any proven 3-4 players in free agency. Parcells himself has used the words "SITUATIONAL" 3-4, not OVERHAUL to a 3-4.
We have done NOTHING to make our defense a 3-4, and here is a hint, WE ARE NOT GOING TO.