Klecko eyes his opponent
The New York Jets defensive front seven underwent a makeover in 2006. The highly publicized transition from a 4-3 front to Coach Eric Mangini's preferred 3-4 base look was a subject of much discussion throughout the football year.
Some critics evaluate certain tendencies and trends without personal experiences, but the Jets had one analytical fan who wrote the book on defensive line flexibility. Joe Klecko –the first defensive player in NFL history to be selected for the Pro Bowl at three different positions (DE-1981, DT-1983/84 and NT-1985) – stopped by Jets camp in late January to discuss the Green & White's multi-faceted front line.
The progression of the unit was significant in the team's overall success to say the least, but Klecko recognizes a pair of names who were perhaps the most influential pieces of the puzzle.
"Dewayne Robertson did a good job with it because at the end of the year he came on really well. I think he was feeling his way out in the beginning of it," said Klecko of the 6'1", 317-pound lineman. "They had a rough time in the beginning because they had a few guys who were really out of position and it took them awhile to catch up to it."
Part of the reason for Robertson's success at the nose position in the 3-4 was his quickness at the line, something Klecko prided himself on.
"I think he can play up because he can give people trouble because he is quick," said Klecko of Robertson. "The closer you move into the nose, the faster things happen. It is a total different feeling inside – even from tackle to nose tackle. Because when guys are coming at you and how they're trying to influence you, it becomes a little different and it's a learning curve."
Klecko, a Temple alum who was an integral part of the famed "New York Sack Exchange" in the early 1980s, also owned that quickness trait throughout his playing career. He was considered a bigger athlete at that time, but his speed separated him from the rest and made him the agile athlete he was.
"My style fit. My forte on everything was always quickness – my hands and my feet," said Klecko, the organization's third alum to have his number retired. "When I moved from end to the inside, it just carried over, so for me it wasn't too much of a transition.
"But then again to give kudos to the guys who play today, they're a lot bigger and stronger today than we were when I played," added Klecko. "I happened to be able to muscle some people sometimes because I was considered strong. I don't think I would be able to do it today."
The other player on the 2006 Jets roster who caught Klecko's eye as the team developed was Jonathan Vilma, the club's middle linebacker and team co-captain.
"I think Jonathan Vilma had the toughest transition because it's pretty hard to play middle linebacker in the 3-4 as a lightweight at 215-220," Klecko said. "When you're having 320 pound guards come at you, there is not too much you're going to do. I think his feeling out process had a lot to do with their success later in the year."
Klecko enjoyed the Jets' second half defensive resurgence behind the strong play of Robertson and Vilma. But he also warmly remembers his playing days on one of the most dominant fronts in pro football history.
"I played it totally different – nobody has ever played it like I have since I've played it," said #73. "They would put me at a cocked position where they would place me at a slant in each gap. We then realized that I could cover either side and the guys I played against over the years had no idea what I was going to do. There is a big difference in the way I played it and the way anybody played it."