In addition to being the head coach of the Jaguars, Jack Del Rio was a pretty good linebacker himself once upon a time.
Over the course of his 11-year playing career from 1985-95, Del Rio suited up for the Saints, Chiefs, Cowboys, and Vikings. It took him 10 years in the NFL before finally getting selected to his first and only Pro Bowl, earning that elusive trip to Hawaii with Minnesota in 1994. In 160 games played, he was credited with 941 total tackles, 13 sacks, 13 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles, and 14 fumble recoveries – the former USC Trojan also scored three defensive touchdowns.
As far as running backs are concerned, Del Rio played alongside the likes of Christian Okoye and Emmitt Smith, while he also played against the likes of Eric Dickerson and Barry Sanders.
Del Rio knows a good tailback when he sees one, and he apparently sees one in Bears rookie Matt Forte. The second-round draft pick out of Tulane has almost single-handedly carried the Chicago offense as a first-year player, cracking the 1,000-yard mark on the ground in just 12 games and also proving to be a dynamite receiver out of the backfield. Both on the field and off the field, Forte has helped the Windy City forget the short-lived Cedric Benson era.
Del Rio is so impressed with Forte that Wednesday, during a conference call with the Chicago media before Jacksonville's Week 14 matchup with the Bears, he compared him to a Hall of Famer he was charged with tackling during his playing days.
"I don't want to get carried away," Del Rio warned, "but I see some Marcus Allen-type vision and balance with him."
Allen, who was enshrined at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003, rushed for 12,243 yards and scored 144 touchdowns during a brilliant 16-year career with the Raiders and Chiefs. The former Heisman Trophy winner could have put up even better numbers, but he was forced to share the ball with Bo Jackson in Los Angeles and also had a falling out with eccentric Raiders owner Al Davis. He's widely considered to be one of the greatest goal-line runners in NFL history, as evidenced by the fact that he scored 11 TDs in his final season in Kansas City at the age of 37.
Not only does Del Rio see some similar physical characteristics between Forte and Allen – they're both about 6-2 and 215 pounds – but their styles also run quite parallel.
"He's a taller guy," he said. "He runs with good pad level. I think he's a good running back. He's got good vision and balance, and I think he does a nice job following his blocks and setting up his blocks. [He's a] good football player."
Del Rio already has one of the better running back tandems in the league with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, but he still had people in his ear before the NFL Draft telling him to take a look at Forte.
"I've got a lot of family and friends that live in Louisiana," said Del Rio, "so I'm aware of some of the things he did at Tulane. A lot of them were telling me how good he was going to be coming out. Of course, we weren't in the market for a back. But I thought he was a good back coming out, and they've got a good player there."
If Forte's career ends up look anything like Allen's, then Bears fans might be trading their stuffed pizza for cajun gumbo before long.
John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.
Jaguars Coach is a Big Fan of Forte
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