Birk, Hutch talk about Randle's HOF chances

Matt Birk and Steve Hutchinson, both Pro Bowl offensive linemen who practiced multiple years against John Randle, effused praise about the former defensive tackle this week. Randle was announced as a preliminary Hall of Fame candidate and the offensive linemen talked on his skills.

If the guys he practiced against for the last several years of his career have anything to say about it, former Vikings defensive tackle John Randle will join the Pro Football Hall of Fame almost as quickly as his spin moves put him past opposing offensive linemen.

Randle was named to the initial list of more than 100 candidates to be considered for the Hall of Fame, and his inclusion on that list came as no surprise to Pro Bowl center Matt Birk, who began his career with the Minnesota Vikings practicing against Randle, and Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson, who began his career with the Seattle Seahawks practicing against Randle.

"He's the best of the best as far as I'm concerned – of all time," Hutchinson said without hesitation when asked about Randle's presence on the list in his first year of eligibility. "I didn't get a chance to play obviously against the defensive tackles of the '90s and '70s and '80s, but as far as I'm concerned he's one of the best in there."

Birk felt the same way.

"The best D-lineman I've ever seen. Oh man, just unbelievable skill, a work ethic like no other," Birk said. "All the time, walk-throughs, pads, no pads – he was full go, always working his craft."

Randle made a quick impression on both offensive linemen early in their careers. When Birk was a sixth-round draft choice of the Vikings in 1998, Randle was at the height of his 14-year career.

"I think he's the best I've ever seen, at least through the course of 14 years. I remember as a young player seeing him and it was a little bit of an inspiration to me just seeing him undrafted and he just worked himself into a great football player," said Birk.

"I'm working scout team against John Randle and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, do I really belong here?'"

Obviously Birk did, but Randle could have an intimidating effect. Not so much for his famous trash-talking, but his quickness and skill from an interior defensive line spot set him apart, said Hutchinson, who earned All-Rookie honors after becoming a first-round draft choice of the Seahawks in 2001, Randle's first year with Seattle.

"I got thrown into the fire. You learn to kind of tune (the trash talk) out, but it's just the practice setting is harder because the defensive guys, they know your count, they know what drill it is, they know the situation," Hutchinson said. "You have to block him in practice every day and you get to a game and it almost seems like it's in slow motion because you're going against a guy that is so quick and so powerful."

Birk said the trash talk from Randle wasn't just a game-day act to get into opponents' heads. Sure, Randle would study the biographies of offensive linemen to fire off a good game-time line or two, but he also used his mouth to keep himself going.

"He wasn't doing it just for show and trying to get attention. That's how he was. That was his motor," Birk said. "If I ran around as much as he has non-stop, I'd probably be out of breath, but he always talked. That was part of his edge. I think he was just so mentally determined that he wasn't going to be stopped."

Birk said he had some favorite lines from Randle, but none of them were printable. However, it isn't Randle's mouth that got him on the Hall of Fame's list of preliminary candidates for 2009 induction. Randle simply produced gaudy numbers for more than decade.

In 14 years, he amassed an incredible 137.5 sacks. To put that in perspective for an interior defensive lineman, the recently retired Warren Sapp had 96.5 sacks in 13 years in the league.

Randle had nine seasons of double-digit sacks.

In Hutchinson's mind, that has the smell of a first-ballot induction.

"It would be a crying shame and I don't think the process would be just and they would have to really take a hard look at it if he isn't a first-ballot guy the way the selections are made. You're talking about a guy that is one of the all-time sack leaders number-wise from an inside position. That's remarkable that a guy that spent his whole career getting double-teamed by a center and guard was able to average 10 sacks a year almost for 14 years. That's incredible."


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