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Kevin Colbert, now General Manger of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was a young scout working for the Miami Dolphins back in 1986. Heard about this undersized, yet very productive, linebacker at Western Michigan. So he took a visit to Kalamazoo, Mich. to see what this kid named Offerdahl was all about.
Between watching three game films, observing practice and spending some quality time with then head coach Jack Harbaugh, Colbert took a liking to John Offerdahl. Many years have passed since then and Colbert has scouted literally thousands of players since his visit to Western Michigan. But to this day, Colbert remembers how Offerdahl changed the way he scouts, the way he looks at prospects.
“I was a young scout at the time,” Colbert recalls. “I was so focused on size and speed and all the other measurables. But watching Offerdahl in college and then seeing how his career took off in the NFL, it taught me that instincts, toughness and productivity outweigh size and speed.
“He wasn’t the biggest of players, probably around 230 pounds, and I’m thinking he ran about a 4.8 in the 40. None of those got your attention. But he was still an instinctive, productive football player. Everyone recognized what this kid was all about.”
This is a story of a small town kid from Wisconsin with big league talent, a player who was so unaccustomed to the bright lights of big time life that I vividly remember him riding up and down the glass elevators at the New Orleans Hyatt because he never experienced that ride before.
You looked at him back then, no chiseled muscles, no outstanding features, and you wondered what the Dolphins could have been thinking taking him with a second round pick, their first pick overall, in the 1986 draft.
Thursday night at Sun Life Stadium, Offerdahl will be inducted into the prestigious Dolphins Honor Roll, a deserving tribute even though his battered body would only allow him eight seasons in the NFL. But to say John Offerdahl made the most of those eight seasons would be an understatement. Every down. Every play. He spilled his guts on that football field.
Back in January of 1986, Colbert was watching Offerdahl at the Senior Bowl. It was third-and-goal from about the 1-yard line. A pretty good player named Bo Jackson took the handoff and went straight over the top. But there to meet him at the top of his jump was John Offerdahl. Jackson never had a chance and from that moment on the scouts like Colbert quickly realized that it’s not all about size and speed.
That John Offerdahl was one tough dude.
“I remember that play,” Colbert says today. “That got everyone’s attention.”
John Offerdahl was the ninth linebacker selected in the 1986 draft. The first seven you probably don’t remember, names like Bell and Kelly and Walker and Murphy. But the eighth linebacker taken was Pepper Johnson, who went on to have a memorable career with the New York Giants.
The Dolphins were up next. The team only had three scouts back then – today they have 10 — and Chuck Connor was the personnel boss who reported to Don Shula. Despite the lack of size, despite the lack of speed, despite all the variables Offerdahl didn’t possess, the decision was an easy one. The Dolphins got themselves a backbone for their defense.
“We just couldn’t ignore his productivity,” said Colbert. “I remember picking up a study along the way, a study that said inside linebackers never use more than 50 percent of their speed 90 percent of the time. John might not have been a three down linebacker in today’s standards, but there was still a need to stop people on first and second down and he could definitely do that.”
Offerdahl went on to have an outstanding eight seasons with the Dolphins. He led the team in tackles. He made Pro Bowls. He led and others followed. He took the same intensity that Colbert saw at Western Michigan and transferred that to the NFL.
And along the way he taught Colbert a lesson that he still carries with him today as the head personnel honcho with the Steelers. “Look past the all the measurables,” he said. “You never know what you might find.”
On Wednesday, AC in the AM answers fans questions.
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