Klecko Is Taking It on the Nose

Associated Press

The nose tackle position was not invented for Joe Klecko, but it could have been.

National Football League teams have been using the 3-4 defense for more than a decade, with the man in the middle of the defensive line serving as nose tackle. He lines up opposite the center and his main job is to occupy a couple of blockers, freeing the linebackers to make tackles.

The Jets switched to the 3-4 this season, becoming the last AFC team to abandon the 4-3. Klecko’s health made that decision a lot easier.

“Joe is the perfect nose tackle,” says Bud Carson, the Jets’ defensive coordinator and a master of the 3-4 alignment. “He has the attitude that he is not going to be stopped by anyone.


“Most of the nose tackles I’ve seen end up absorbing a lot of physical punishment while his teammates make the tackles and get the headlines. But not Joe. No matter who is in front of him, it’s no problem. He’ll just run over whatever is in his way to get to the ball carrier or the quarterback.”

Having returned to form after a long rehabilitation from a ruptured leg tendon suffered in 1982, Klecko has performed as well this season as he did as a tackle and end in 1981, ’83 and ‘84--all Pro Bowl years. And the 6-foot-3, 269-pound bundle of energy has taken very well to the 3-4 and nose tackle.

“I love the challenge of hearing people say I might not make it back, because I feed off that . . . live off adversity,” he says. “The more I hear people saying I can’t do something, the more it drives me to get it done.”

Klecko made his reputation in 1981 with a league-high 20 1/2 sacks, but he is not a wide-eyed pass rusher who forgets about guarding against the run. In fact, opponents rarely would run to his side of the field when the Jets played a four-man line.

Now, in the middle of the trenches, Klecko not only is shutting down enemy rushers but bulling his way into the opposing backfields with regularity. Instead of lining up directly opposite the center, he crouches on an angle, which Carson says gives Klecko a “leverage edge.”

Despite that subtle adjustment, Klecko is anything but subtle about how he gets the job done.


“I don’t make it pretty,” he says. “I do what works.”

One thing that has worked is what Green Bay center Mark Cannon--who was beaten by Klecko for five tackles, two assists, two quarterback pressures and a forced fumble in a New York win this season--calls “The Klecko Skate.”

“We call it that because when he hits you, it looks like you’re rolling backward on skates,” says Cannon of Klecko’s move, which involves shoving one blocker aside, then crawling on the ground while in the grasp of another blocker, to get to the quarterback.

Jets linebacker Lance Mehl has some fond remembrances of Klecko at his best--and worst.

“I remember in my first year (1980), in New England, I saw him pick up a guard and throw him right into (Patriots’ quarterback Steve) Grogan,” Mehl said. “He just picked the guy off the ground--you’re talking about a 260 or 270-pound man he picked up.

“I also remember a game against Cincinnati when Joe had come back from his injury. A guy cut him and he was raging. I went over to him to calm him down--I didn’t want him to get a penalty or thrown out of the game--but then I thought better. I just said, ‘Go ahead Joe, be mad.’

“I wouldn’t ever want to be the guy he’s mad at.”