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'A Disruptive Force': Chris Doleman was Ahead of His Time as a Pass Rusher

EAGAN, Minn. — It doesn't take long to find Chris Doleman's name on the NFL's all-time sack list.

The Hall of Fame defensive end ranks fifth in league history with 150.5 career sacks, the mark of a legendary career that included 10 seasons with the Vikings.

Doleman passed away Tuesday night after a courageous battle with brain cancer that lasted more than two years after the initital diagnosis.

Doleman played in Purple from 1985 to 1993 before spending the next two seasons with Atlanta. He played for San Francisco from 1996-1998 before returning to the Vikings in 1999 for the final season of his illustrious 15-year career.

Former Vikings punter Greg Coleman, a teammate of Doleman's from 1985-1987, reflected on his friend's immense talent and work ethic on Wednesday morning.

"I just talked with [Hall of Fame linebacker] Lawrence Taylor, and Doleman reminded me of Lawrence Taylor," Coleman said. "You had to know where LT was at all times, and you had to worry about where Chris Doleman was, too.

"He was just that type of a disruptive force, and it showed. He was rewarded for that with All-Pro [selections] and Pro Bowls and the ultimate — being in the Hall of Fame and the Vikings Ring of Honor," Coleman added. "You just don't get those accolades by whistling Dixie. You have to be a damn good football player, and that's what Chris Doleman was."

Doleman landed in Minnesota in 1985 as the fourth overall pick out of the University of Pittsburgh. He transitioned from linebacker to defensive end in his second pro season, recording just 3.5 sacks in his first 32 games.

But the sacks soon came in bunches; he recorded 40 of them over the next three seasons, a run that was highlighted by a whopping 21 in 1989 when he led the NFL and helped Minnesota set a franchise record with 71 team sacks.

Vikings Ring of Honor linebacker Scott Studwell, who played with Doleman from 1985-90, said there were times he watched in amazement at what Doleman was able to do in the field.

"He was so explosive, and he had such great acceleration off the edge, and he was so good at strippin' people because he had such great acceleration into contact," Studwell said Wednesday as a guest on KFAN's 9 to Noon broadcast with "Voice of the Vikings" Paul Allen. "He was a freak athlete. He was one of those guys ... I guess I would compare him to a Randy Moss on the other side of the ball.

"A guy that could transcend any generation – he could be playing today," Studwell said. "He's one of those unique guys that doesn't come around very often, and he's going to be sorely missed."

View photos of Vikings legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Chris Doleman.

The 21 sacks in one season are tied with fellow Hall of Famer Reggie White's output in 1987 for the fifth-most by a player in a single campaign and 1.5 shy of the record of 22.5 set by Michael Strahan in 2001.

"He had that one-arm technique that he came up with," said Vikings Hall of Fame guard Randall McDaniel. "He was one-of-a-kind. I got to watch him play and watch the year he had 21 sacks. He was phenomenal on the field. We're losing a good one today."

Coleman recalled how Doleman eventually flourished as a defensive end.

"In the beginning, he struggled a little bit because going from linebacker to defensive line was a little adjustment," Coleman said. "But we still rode him pretty good because we knew the potential that he had. Once he figured it out of how good and disruptive he could be as a D-lineman, the sky was the limit.

"He would do whatever you asked. I remember once I had him on my punt team as a right tackle. He missed a couple blocks and I said, 'Doleman, I don't care if you're a first-round pick or not, if you don't pick up your blocks, you're getting off my damn punt team.' That was Chris," Coleman added. "He busted his butt and cared about his teammates, and he wanted to be the best. He worked his tail off. Those are some of the memories I'm thinking about right now."

Doleman recorded eight double-digit sack seasons, and he compiled 11 years in which he recorded at least 8.0 sacks.

Former Vikings defensive end Jared Allen set the Vikings single-season sack record in 2011 with 22 sacks when he passed Doleman's record of 21.

Allen on Wednesday said he looked up to Doleman and studied his impressive skill set throughout the years.

"I watched a lot of tape on him. There are players in sports who seem to be ahead of the curve," Allen said. "Chris played at a time when you didn't really see a true speed rusher. You had Derrick Thomas, but he was before D.T. even. Chris' ability to get off the ball and turn the corner and bend and use his body like that was honestly ahead of his time. He set the pace for that style of rushing.

"You look at older guys and it was more physical, a lot of bull fights … Chris had those techniques, but he was just more athletic than people," Allen added. "He was faster, quicker and knew how to use his body. You watched how he could duck and bend, and you just didn't get guys doing that. He was a stud, man."

Vikings co-Defensive Coordinator and defensive line coach Andre Patterson was Minnesota's defensive line coach in 1999, which was Doleman's final season in the league.

Yet even though Doleman would retire after that 1999 season, Patterson said it was evident that Doleman could still play. The defensive end recorded 8.0 sacks with the Vikings in 1999.

"How smart Chris was as a player is the first thing that jumped out at me. I think having the experience to coach Chris is one of the things that helped me with Danielle [Hunter], because both are long, athletic players," Patterson said. "Being able to see the things Chris could do with his body as a pass rusher, I was able to steal ideas that I learned from him that I've used along the way.

"We've lost one of the all-time greats in Vikings history. It's always been a goal for me to get our players to understand the history of the Vikings defensive line," Patterson added. "All of the young guys in that room, they know who Chris Doleman is and what he meant to the Vikings organization and what kind of player and human being he was."