John Randle established himself as one of the greatest defensive tackles in NFL history and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010 following an illustrious 14-year career in which he recorded 555 tackles and 137.5 sacks. But his success was unprecedented, as he was widely viewed as too small for the defensive tackle position, playing at 6-foot-1, 290-pounds. It was Randle’s success that paved the way for smaller three-techniques such as Aaron Donald, and most recently, Buffalo Bills rookie first-round draft pick Ed Oliver, to be given opportunities in the NFL.
Randle appeared on One Bills Live and discussed just what made him so dominant despite being smaller than his defensive line cohorts, and broke down what he sees in Ed Oliver, who will be playing the three-technique role in Buffalo’s defense that he thrived in for the Minnesota Vikings.
“I believed that I belonged in the National Football League, but teams doubted me because I was undersized,” Randle said. “I wasn’t the right height. I wasn’t the right height, I wasn’t 6-foot-5″ or 6-foot-6.. Teams had a lot of doubt about a guy being 6-foot-2″ being able to play in the NFL because everyone believed you had to be the biggest guy, the heaviest guy to be able to play a game that was limited to a select group of guys.”
Randle entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M-Kingsville and was just 244-pounds. After gaining some weight, Randle played his first season in 1990 but exploded with 9.5 sacks in 1991 before racking up at least 10 sacks in each of the following eight seasons. Randle explained that his mentality of always needing to prove himself pushed him to compete on every snap, whether in practice or during a game.
“One of the reasons (undersized players succeed) is because smaller guys, you see it watching the film now, the guys always have in the back of their heads that they don’t belong,” said Randle. “So undersized guys are always kind of thinking that in the back of their heads, that they don’t belong. They’re always playing like it’s their last play. They take that kind of perspective to the game. And you watch the bigger guys, they don’t give it as much as the smaller guys.”
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“When you watch a guy like Aaron Donald, he’s playing his first play like it’s his last play,” Randle continued. “That’s the approach with the undersized guys. Another thing, it’s easier for you to get underneath those bigger guys and to push them back into the quarterback. And a bigger guy might have the tendency to think, ‘oh he’s an undersized guy, he isn’t going to have that power’ and the majority of the time, the undersized guy does.”
Ed Oliver joins the Bills with a similar body type to that of John Randle. He measured in at 6-foot-1, 287-pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine after recording 192 tackles, 53 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks, 11 pass breakups and five forced fumbles in three years with the Houston Cougars.
Randle appears to be a fan of Oliver, who primarily played heads up over the center as a nose tackle in college, which really wasn’t the best use of his skill set. Randle even went on to say that Oliver might be better at playing the nose than he was.
“One of the things I noticed from watching (Ed Oliver) was the way he uses his hands,” Randle explained. “He uses his hands right off the bat. As soon as he comes out of his stance, he’s using his hands and that’s one of the main, biggest things that I did. I was getting my hands out there and trying to get the offensive lineman’s hands down. And when he’s going over the center, that’s one of the things I didn’t like to do, I didn’t like going down messing with that center because there’s a tendency that the guard is going to get on you.”
“But if you have the ability to play over that center, which he does, that just makes his game even better because he’s a guy that can play on the nose, for a couple of plays, then hop back out. And that just gives depth to his game. And if anything he probably plays it better than I did, because I was able to get up on that center, we had a guy named Henry Thomas, who was, to me, one of the best nose guards to ever play the game. So i was virtually always playing the three-technique or defensive end. But we always used to say, playing over the center, if you can do that, that’s a unique position, man, because not many guys are capable of playing over that center. ”
Ed Oliver will now play the three-technique position in defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s scheme. The three-technique tackle aligns between the offensive guard and tackle, so quickness and penetration are valued over brute strength due to the increased one-on-one opportunities they see. Randle is one of the most dominant three-techniques in the history of the league and broke down what a quality player in that role can do for a defense to hamper an opposing offense.
“By penetrating that B-gap, you’re preventing the offense from running to one side of the football field,” Randle said. “Because that center can’t pull, that guard can’t pull. That takes away one half of the football field and then the offense is limited in what they can run. When you have that penetrating three-technique, that makes the guard and tackle tighten their splits down, so then the defensive end can come around that corner, fly around there and get to the quarterback. When the guards are focused on the three-technique and the center is looking backside, that opens a lot of plays for the linebackers. A lot of linebackers will stick up there and they can just take off on a blitz or just take off and hit the A-gap. So that’s something that a three-technique does and just something that I know from playing with a lot of these guys, they always told me ‘you gave our centers problems, it really drove our offensive coordinators crazy’ and limited them in what they could run on Sunday or Monday.”
Ed Oliver has high expectations heading into the 2019 NFL season and will be tasked with transforming Buffalo’s defensive line into a dominant one. Despite being undersized compared to some traditional values for the position, Oliver has predecessors that have proven size doesn’t always matter.