Reggie Ragland and the Decline of Hair Metal


Most people form their musical preferences during their high school years. My mother is a child of the British Invasion, growing up in the 1960s. My uncles were largely children of the 70s, and their tastes leaned towards vintage ZZ Top, Queen and Aerosmith. My older cousins were impacted by the pop/country and Southern rock of the early 80s.

I was in high school in the late 1980s and my music was hair metal in all its resplendent ridiculousness. Songs about fast cars, faster women and living life with everything turned up to 11 was the overriding message from my musical heroes. C.C. Deville’s hair couldn’t be teased enough, Tommy Lee couldn’t act raunchy enough, Mark Slaughter couldn’t screech high enough. Sexual double entendres were thinly veiled in the lyrics and celebrated in the ubiquitous videos on MTV, back when that station still embraced the “music” part of its moniker.

Something else that was prominent back in those glorious days was the big, thumping inside linebacker. The NFL was still a run-heavy, power-oriented game for the most part. Big, 245+ pound linebackers who could seek and destroy thrived. Guys like Harry Carson, Pepper Johnson, Vaughn Johnson anPoisond my personal football hero, Chris Spielman, were as coveted by the NFL coaches as Kip Winger was by 17-year-old girls with blown-out hair, exposed lace bras and bright red lipstick.

Reggie Ragland would have been a star in that era. The thickly-built, supremely powerful inside linebacker from Alabama is absolute death to interior runs from power backs. Manning the middle of the Crimson Tide’s talent-laden defense, Ragland looked fantastic with his nose for the ball and appetite for destruction. Playing at 247 pounds on his 6’2” frame, Ragland’s talent stood out even among standouts.

The question now is, can Ragland adjust to today’s different style of NFL?

Bigger linebackers are often seen as a liability these days. The modern NFL offense is largely based on speed, and getting that speed into open space as quickly as possible. Big, hulking inside linebackers who can’t quickly flow to the point of attack or handle coverage duties are about as desirable as Stryper’s Greatest Hits at the local used CD store.

Look at the sizes and speed of the top inside backers these days…

  • Luke Kuechly, 6’3” 243 pounds, 4.58 40-yard dash, 4.12 short shuttle
  • Derrick Johnson, 6’3” 245 pounds, 4.52 40, 3.98 short shuttle
  • Bobby Wagner, 6’ 233 pounds, 4.46 40, 4.28 short shuttle with elite explosive metrics

Ragland clocked a 4.72 40 and 4.28 short shuttle at the Combine at 247 pounds. Yet at Alabama’s pro day, he had gained several pounds and looked plodding…

From eyewitness accounts, Ragland was back up above 255 pounds again. He was 259 in January at the Senior Bowl weigh-in (which I attended) and looked doughy. It was exactly like buying Guns N Roses tickets expecting Slash and Duff and instead getting fat, dreadlocked Axl eating fried chicken from his random guitarist’s stupid headwear. gnr

That makes Ragland trending in the wrong direction. And that’s a terribly frustrating way to spend your early 20s.

Flash back to 1992, the end of my sophomore year at Ohio University. Even though many of my peers had moved on, I was still all about the hair metal. I was at Schoolkid’s records every Tuesday anxiously awaiting the newest releases from bands like Lynch Mob, White Lion and Trixter. I vividly recall begging my roommate for $10 so I could go get the long-awaited second Steelheart CD.

That summer is when the tide finally turned, at least in my world. Bands from Seattle and the whole alt-rock scene had been brewing, but it all exploded that summer. I liked some of it, but I wasn’t angry or depressed or fatigued with the music scene yet. Almost overnight, my Warrant and Dokken t-shirts went from proud status relic to source of instant scorn and bemused laughter. I was not alone; millions of us had our musical worlds turned upside down abruptly.

The change in the NFL hasn’t been so sudden, but it is just as extreme. Get the Funk Out with your plodding inside backers. The Curtis Loftons and Stephen Tullochs of the world are nothing more than run-down package players, or at least that’s all they should be. Tight ends are faster and used in more varied receiving roles now, and teams are savvier at finding and exploiting the most favorable matchups.

Fortunately for Ragland, he has some solid tape in coverage…

and this one:

The second example here, against Wisconsin, is very relevant to how Ragland would be used in the NFL. The route concept here is to get him to stick with the tight end breaking down the field, but Ragland has enough presence to anticipate the secondary option and quickly snuff it out. After chucking the first option, he sees that receiver is still going gung-ho down the seam. He knows he has a safety behind him to cover that, and also understands that Wisconsin’s offense isn’t apt to take a shot in this situation.

Ragland’s adaptive knowledge and quick, instinctive reactions are what helps him stand out. It’s why I am a believer he can still be a very effective inside linebacker in the NFL even in this era that is changing away from his general style.

Some of the musicians from the hair metal era had that sort of transcendent talent and ability to adapt and persist. I saw Slash in concert last fall and he was still bringing it. While staying true to his 80s Sunset Strip roots, his new music fits very well into the modern rock palate. Bon Jovi transformed himself into a successful crossover pop/country act and still packs the stadiums with women who threw their tops at him some 30 years ago. When the fundamentals are strong, the style doesn’t have to be perfect to work across any era.

This is why I’m still bullish on Ragland. He’s a great tackler with pop behind his pads and excellent finishing technique. He can also rush the passer, often lining up at DE in Alabama’s amorphous front.

He can effectively shed blocks and close on the ball carrier. And he knows how to blow my fuse with plays like this…

Or how about this awareness and athleticism…

Those are the kind of plays Ragland can rock at the next level too. It is requisite he gets into optimal physical condition, and that’s where he controls his own destiny. Hopefully No. 19 sees the light and transforms himself into the rock star of an inside backer I strongly believe he can become in the NFL. Even though the NFL game has changed, he has enough skill to fit in and excel. I would hate for him to go the way of Firehouse or Cinderella, greats in their early era but unable to transition when the tides around them shifted.

So many of the bands I once worshipped drowned that way, in part because they were all style with little substance. It doesn’t have to be that way, however. Those with musical substance persisted because their core game was strong. And that’s very true with Reggie Ragland, too. He will not be for everyone, and that’s okay. Not everyone was into Ratt or Whitesnake either. Put Ragland at ILB in a 30 front, or allow him the flexibility to move all around the second level of the formation, and he will be a very good player for a very long time.