NFC West: Randy White

Cortez Kennedy and the Hall of Fame

February, 2, 2011
2/02/11
7:15
PM ET
DALLAS -- All defensive tackles were not created alike. That goes for the great ones, too.

[+] EnlargeSeattle Seahawks defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy
US PresswireFormer Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy was a versatile player over his 11-year career.
Some are mostly run-stuffers, coming off the field in passing situations. Others rush the passer with little or no regard for playing the run.

Very few could dominate across all situations. Cortez Kennedy could, and did, during an 11-year NFL career that landed him a spot among the final 10 candidates for the most recent Pro Football Hall of Fame class. Kennedy is among the final 15 modern-era finalists again this year, and I'll be presenting his case to the other selectors during our annual meeting Saturday.

Several themes have emerged during my research into Kennedy's career. I'll expand upon them here one by one, drawing upon coaches and players' first-hand knowledge.

Sheer physical dominance

Very good players sometimes enjoy great careers. Some lean heavily on savvy and preparation. Not all of them dominate physically. Kennedy generated superior power and sudden quickness from a massive lower body.

"Cortez was the most dominant interior lineman that we ever faced and certainly the very best against the run," said former Oakland Raiders guard Steve Wisniewski, an eight-time Pro Bowl choice between 1989 and 2001.

Seattle scrapped its 3-4 defense to rebuild around Kennedy at a time when Kennedy's college coach at Miami, Jimmy Johnson, was bringing his 4-3 scheme to the NFL.

"That time in football is when you really got the dominant defensive players inside," Johnson said. "The big, overpowering defensive linemen inside just disrupted everything. Cortez got teams looking for that dominant player."

There's that word again -- dominant.

"He was very dominant and could take over the game," said longtime NFL offensive line coach Howard Mudd, who coached for and against Seattle during Kennedy's career. "He just had great instincts about where the ball was and he was a pass-rusher so you would think, 'Gee, we could run screens on that guy.' But he smelled them out and he was always running into the screens."

Longtime NFL offensive line coach Alex Gibbs said offenses had to plan for Kennedy specifically or pay the consequences, or both. Gibbs coached the lines for three of Seattle's old AFC West rivals across 10 of Kennedy's 11 seasons. He was with Seattle briefly in 2010, and that is when he provided a testimonial.

"The Seahawks were a nightmare because I knew I was going to get them twice a year, and it was going to boil down to making a decision -- do I spend all my time with Cortez or do I deal with those other guys?" Gibbs said.

Complete player

Kennedy joined John Randle, Bryant Young and Warren Sapp on the NFL's all-decade team for the 1990s. He was a different type of defensive tackle, opponents said. They lauded him for his versatility.

"I knew that when I was going to go play against Cortez Kennedy, it was going to be a full-meal deal, a battle," said retired Pro Bowl center Tim Grunhard, who started 164 games for Kansas City from 1990 to 2000. "I knew when I was going against Warren Sapp, when you got him, you could block him. ... At times, he lined up as wide as any tackle ever. Cortez Kennedy lined up head-on you and went man to man and dominated you."

Asked to rank Kennedy among contemporaries, Wisniewski wanted to know which tackles appeared on the all-decade team for the 1990s. I ran through the names and asked Wisniewski to put Kennedy's abilities in perspective.

"(Kennedy) had that ability to stop the run, to play with leverage and have the quickness to hit the edge of an offensive guard and split the seams to put pressure on the quarterback," Wisniewski said. "Hands down, he was a much better player against the run than a John Randle, much better than a Warren Sapp. I didn't have to play against Bryant Young as many times. He was a much lighter guy, kind of high effort, 50-50 (against run and pass alike)."

Randle is already in the Hall of Fame. Sapp and Young are not yet eligible for consideration. Each was outstanding in his own way, but Kennedy was different.

Made teammates better

Kennedy collected 14 sacks in 1992 and 58 for his career even though Seattle asked him to do so much more than rush the passer. Opponents funneled more resources toward Kennedy after that 14-sack season, creating opportunities for his teammates. Michael Sinclair, Sam Adams, Michael McCrary and others benefited.

"He was such a powerful guy who could play, in essence, two gaps," Gibbs said. "He forced you to get two people on him in order to get through the seams, which gave the linebackers who played here a tremendous advantage. You couldn’t get the combinations to block him. You always tried to get one of them off and his body frame was so wide and strong that we couldn’t get there, so the linebackers made all the plays. He had a unique ability to control one and force another to free up his teammates to make a lot of plays."

Former Seahawks linebacker Terry Wooden said the same thing recently when I happened to be sitting near him on an airplane. According to Wooden, Kennedy would never seek to make a play on his own if it meant weakening the defense overall or compromising a teammate.

Durability and accolades

Kennedy played 16 games nine times, 15 games once and eight games in his only injury-shortened season. He matched Reggie White and Bruce Smith as the only defensive linemen with eight Pro Bowls during the 1990s. He went to as many Pro Bowls during the 1990s as Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Bruce Smith and Derrick Thomas.

Kennedy was also the Associated Press' defensive player of the year on that 2-14 team, which featured one of the worst offenses in NFL history (Seattle was the only NFL team to field a top-10 defense in 1990, 1991 and 1992). Only White and Lawrence Taylor won the award previously while playing for losing teams.

According to the Seahawks, Kennedy played more than 90 percent of the defensive snaps for at least his first six seasons, including 97.2 percent in 1994.

Since sacks became an official stat in 1982, Kennedy and Hall of Famer Randy White are the only defensive tackles with at least 150 starts, 50 sacks and eight Pro Bowls. Again, though, the sack totals were never what defined Kennedy's contributions.

Grunhard put it this way: "When they are 330 pounds, at times their job is to tie you up. Their job is to clog up the middle. It is not fair when people say they are taking plays off. They are doing their jobs. There is a difference. Sometimes plays aren't designed for them to make the plays. Their job is to free up other people and he did a great job doing that. But when Cortez wanted to go and had the opportunity to go make a play, he was unstoppable. He was unblockable. That puts him in an elite level."
Since sacks became an official stat in 1982, Kennedy and Hall of Famer Randy White are the only defensive tackles with at least 150 starts, 50 sacks and eight Pro Bowls
Newly enshrined Hall of Famer Russ Grimm coaches more than the Arizona Cardinals' offensive line. Defensive players also benefit from the information and expertise Grimm has collected during three-plus decades as a player and coach.

Few players appear more eager to learn than Cardinals defensive lineman Darnell Dockett. I watched Dockett and Grimm speak for roughly 15 minutes during a recent practice, one of a few such conversations I observed during three-plus days at Cardinals camp.

Dockett
"It's football and respect," Dockett said. "You sit back and you learn knowledge."

On a humorous note, though, Dockett would like to reserve a little lesson for Grimm one of these times.

"I've been trying to go against him one-on-one," Dockett said. "I told him I just want to get one pass rush against him, just so I can say I went against a Hall of Famer -- and I promise I'm going to kick his ass."

Dockett seemed to revel in the thought. Of course, he was speaking only of the 51-year-old version of Grimm, not the one Grimm's former line coach, Joe Bugel, recalled clearing out Hall of Famer Randy White play after play during one memorable Washington Redskins victory over the Dallas Cowboys years ago.

"Yeah, right now, I know his back hurts, he has bad knees, he always complains about his ankles," Dockett said. "I got him right now, I promise you."

Grimm holds the edge on Dockett for now, though. He routinely changes the snap count for Dockett during pass-rush drills against the Cardinals' defensive players. He drew Dockett offside on back-to-back plays early in camp. Dockett knows that's just Grimm trying to make him better. He appreciates the attention from an all-time NFL great.

"He's a good guy, too," Dockett said. "Rides his Harley, talks to you, a players' coach, never walks past you and don't speak. Much respect from me."

Discussing Hall of Fame credentials

February, 1, 2010
2/01/10
2:33
PM ET
MIAMI -- Hall of Fame voters will consider nine 2010 finalists with ties to current NFC West teams.

I'll be presenting the case for Cortez Kennedy during the proceedings Saturday as the geographic representative for the Seattle market.

Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesFormer Seahawks defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy is a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.



Two things about Kennedy have jumped out during my research:
  • Kennedy was a great every-down player. Kennedy played at least 90 percent of the defensive snaps from 1991 to 1996, including 97.22 percent in 1994. He was a force against run and pass alike, not just a situational player or one-dimensional player.
  • Kennedy and Hall of Famer Randy White are the only defensive tackles in NFL history with at least 150 starts, 50 sacks and eight Pro Bowls.

I'd like to use this forum to solicit your thoughts on Kennedy and the eight other finalists with ties to current NFC West teams. I'll single out a note or two on each player here to help get the conversation going (while fully recognizing that some of these players enjoyed most of their success for teams outside the division):
  • Jerry Rice, 49ers WR. Arguably the greatest player in NFL history.
  • Roger Craig, 49ers RB. One of three players in NFL history with 8,000 yards rushing, 4,900 yards receiving, 70 total touchdowns and four Pro Bowls. Marcus Allen and Marshall Faulk are the others.
  • Richard Dent, 49ers DL. One of three players in NFL history with at least 135 sacks and 35 forced fumbles. Bruce Smith and Chris Doleman are the others.
  • Charles Haley, 49ers OLB/DE. One of 10 players in NFL history with 100 sacks, 25 forced fumbles and five Pro Bowls.
  • Rickey Jackson, 49ers linebacker. One of five players in NFL history with at least 125 sacks and 40 forced fumbles. Bruce Smith, Derrick Thomas, Doleman and Jason Taylor are the others.
  • John Randle, Seahawks DT. One of five players in NFL history with185 starts, 135 sacks and seven Pro Bowls.
  • Don Coryell, Cardinals coach. Helped change the way teams played offense in the passing game, which helped revolutionize how defenses responded.
  • Emmitt Smith, Cardinals RB. All-time NFL rushing leader.
  • Russ Grimm, Redskins guard (and current Cardinals assistant coach). Arguably the best player on the most famous offensive line in NFL history.

SPONSORED HEADLINES