As a former NFL All-Pro and nine-year veteran who now mentors defensive linemen, it’s safe to say Chuck Smith is obsessed with the art of rushing the passer.
Smith, 44, piled up 58 1/2 sacks from 1992 to 2000, the large majority with the Atlanta Falcons. He now specializes in helping linemen win one-on-one pass-rushing battles via his Football 365 training system, which he operates out of Atlanta, so he’s certainly pored over tape of the greatest pass rushers of all time.
Lawrence Taylor. Reggie White. Deacon Jones. You name them and Smith knows what they did to get to the quarterback. And while it takes diligence and relentlessness to get there, you don’t necessarily need a variety of moves to become a force.
“You need three moves to be a great pass rusher,” Smith told ESPN.com in 2008. “You need your setup move, you need your counter, and you need your finishing move.”
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Building on that, here are Smith’s top five pass-rush moves in NFL history.
5. Jumpy Geathers’ human forklift
Only the most hardcore football fans have heard of James “Jumpy” Geathers, but Smith insists NFL linemen who had to face Geathers from 1984 to 1996 remember him.
“When you talk about him, coaches are like ‘Whoa’ — he could not be stopped,” Smith said. “He’s like a cult icon amongst players.”
Listed at 6 feet 8 and 290 pounds, Geathers was a mountain of a man in an era where linemen typically weren’t his size. He used it to his advantage, too. He racked up 62 sacks in 13 NFL seasons as a defensive tackle and struck fear in opponents thanks in large part to “The Human Forklift,” a move so underrated it’s hard to find a YouTube clip of it.
“There’s only one guy I’ve seen ever use this move — there’s nothing like him,” Smith said. “He was one of the strongest men I’ve ever been around.
“He had a swim move and he had a forklift. So when you thought he was gonna swim you, (linemen) would set light and try to sit off of it. Then he would put his helmet in your neck, grab the back of your pads and lift you up because he was 6-8 and bend you over like you were wrestling.”
Smith said the move was so devastating, Geathers regularly tore the Achilles’ tendons of opponents.
4. Dwight Freeney’s spin move
Smith expects to take some heat from this selection from some of the players in his era, but he stands by it.
“Man, Dwight Freeney is the best spinner of all time,” Smith said. “I know John Randle is cussin’ me out. I know Bruce (Smith) is hollering.
“But Dwight Freeney, when he was in his prime, I watched him spin three times in a row when he was young. And here’s what made his move so deadly — he did it when you knew he was going to do it. He never stopped doing it.”
As Smith noted, though, one didn’t sleep on Bruce Smith’s spin move, either.
“He had leverage, man,” said former Chiefs lineman Rich Baldinger. “He could run around the corner that high off the ground at 280 pounds. He could set you up. Arm bar, arm under. He had speed and power. He was just another guy that gave you 1,000 percent on every play, never quit.”
3. Reggie White’s speed rush-to-hump move
Chiefs general manager John Dorsey recently said Reggie White might be the greatest pass rusher he’s ever seen. White also came to be associated with one iconic pass-rush move, in particular.
“The hump — can’t block it one-on-one, could not be stopped,” Smith said. “He was fast … Reggie would take off and be running upfield with speed and then he’d speed rush you and when you were trying to get to him on the corner, he would use his inside hand and club you upfield when you were overset trying to stop the speed.”
Smith said White’s unique combination of size (6 feet 5 and 291 pounds) and speed made the move unstoppable.
“It was a power move predicated on Reggie being fast,” Smith said, “and he always did it on the fourth step. It was the same move every time over and over and over and over.”
2. Lawrence Taylor’s/Derrick Thomas’ speed rush
A lot of pass rushers have speed. A handful of them have body control. Very few of them have both.
Even fewer have both to the degree Taylor and Thomas did.
“They were supercharged athletes that were lightning fast and they had great body control,” Smith said. “They had great body control and their feet never stopped moving ... that’s the sort of thing you just can’t teach.”
It also created a serious problem for offensive tackles.
“In their prime, one man could not stop them because when you’ve got that speed … it set up LT’s bull rush. He’d come up and work an inside move because he was so fast on the corner. He could stop on a dime like (NBA star) Chris Paul on a crossover and come back inside of you.”
“Yeah, he had the speed rush,” he said. “LT would run over you too, now. LT was strong. He had a lot of natural strength. Plus LT played hard beginning to end. He never took a play off in his life.”
Thomas’ speed rush also came packaged with a dip-and-rip move that has often been imitated, but rarely duplicated. He also used the speed rush to set up his other moves, which is why Smith ranks it so high.
“That speed rush is the foundation that pretty much sets up almost every move,” Smith said. “The spin comes off of speed. Bull rush comes off of speed.
“Everything … with the exception of the head slap.”
1. Deacon Jones’ head slap
Deacon Jones is the man who coined the term “sack,” so it’s only fitting that the most iconic pass-rushing move of all time belongs to him.
“The head slap was my signature move,” Jones told ESPN. “A straight right hand to the side of your head … and then I’d turn that 4.5 speed on you.”
Smith said Jones set the tone for the long legacy of devastating pass rushers who would follow him with his now-outlawed move.
“I wish we could have used it,” Smith said with a laugh. “What makes that the most deadly move of all time is the fact you were hitting some people in the head and shaking up their equilibrium. That one has to be No. 1.”
Richard Dent’s cross chop, Chris Doleman’s cross chop, Kevin Greene’s bull rush, Howie Long’s rip, John Randle’s spin, Warren Sapp’s cross chop, Michael Strahan’s bull rush.