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Thread: 3-4 schemes provide challenges for NFL teams in draft

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    3-4 schemes provide challenges for NFL teams in draft

    wonder why so few college teams run the 3-4 defense? i'll bet you more and more college teams will begin to make the switch...


    Wed Mar 24, 2010 1:52 am EDT

    3-4 schemes provide challenges for NFL teams in draft
    By Doug Farrar

    Every NFL team has its own theories and formulas when it comes to the science of the draft, but no matter how specific people get, there are certain positional and schematic issues that cause geniuses to look like goofballs. Basketball players become brilliant tight ends. Spread-offense quarterbacks put up historic numbers in college and can't even bust the CFL at the pro level. And the increasing number of NFL teams running 3-4 defenses find it more and more difficult to find key personnel in the draft, for one simple reason -- college teams don't run the 3-4 as their base defense very much.

    In fact, of the 120 BCS teams, only three -- Alabama, Cal, and West Virginia -- run a full-time three-man front. That makes the accurate selection of specific players, especially two-gap nose tackles than can dominate the point of attack, more difficult. This is the case even though the 2010 class of defensive tackles may be the deepest ever. As college teams put forth their abilities to create NFL opportunities to recruits, you could see more teams making the switch. This schism was on the mind of more than one AFC coach during the media breakfast at the Owner's Meetings.

    "I think that there are always a number of guys in that situation in the draft," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of the "conversion ends", like Tennessee's Dan Williams, who are expected to move to nose at the pro level. "There are hardly any 3-4 teams in college football. Whoever plays on the end of the line, whether it's a linebacker, defensive end or a crash end, whatever you want to call them, those guys are going to play on the end of the line at the next level too. Figuring out who can do what, that's always a tough spot to break down in the draft."

    And the "endbackers", 4-3 ends or outside linebackers who convert to edge rushers in 3-4-4 or 5-2-4 sets, are of equal importance -- something Belichick's been dealing with since his days coaching Lawrence Taylor under Bill Parcells in the 1980s. "It's a challenge, but again that's pretty much the way it's been you know going back to ... you could pick out most of those guys going back to Lawrence Taylor, and certainly [Mike] Vrabel, [Willie] McGinest, Chris Slade, [Rosevelt] Colvin, Tully [Banta-Cain], all those guys. Sure, it's a long list of them, guys who didn't play on their feet in college or played on their feet a minimal amount."

    Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano knows all about the challenges of putting together a 3-4 front -- he's working around nose tackle Jason Ferguson's(notes) eight-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy precisely because guys who do what Ferguson does are so hard to find. Even as a 35-year-old free agent sure to play only half a season, he's still an attractive option.

    "From our standpoint, as you know, Jason Ferguson's a guy that's been very good for us," Sparano said. "When we were in Dallas as well, but very much so when we were here in Miami. Obviously, Jason has the suspension. We're not happy with that, but at the end of the day, it's something that we have to deal with. When Jason got hurt this year, our tongue would've been hanging out to find a player like Jason Ferguson sitting out there at that time. We couldn't find a player like that. To have the ability to have a player like that when he comes back off a suspension I think is a positive thing for us. Of course, Jason, I love him to death, but he's not a young guy. I would say that all these (3-4) positions are positions we'd consider addressing in the draft."

    At the Combine, Jets coach Rex Ryan told me about the incredible value of two-gappers, and he was watching every move made by ginormous nose tackle Terrence Cody at Alabama's recent Pro Day. "That might be one of the toughest parts of a 3-4," Ryan said in Indianapolis. "Basically your nose tackle, unless you are always moving to nose, if you are playing a standard 3-4 defense, then you've got a two-gap responsibility which means you got to be able to play the front-side A-gap and the backside A-gap at the same time. You generally need a dominant individual there. And that is what you have like a Kris Jenkins(notes), or a Ted Washington(notes) many years ago in Buffalo was one of the best two-gappers I have ever seen. A guy has to be active, he has got to be able to stay on his feet, his technique on releasing off of blocks has got to be outstanding. If not, you are really going to struggle at that spot."

    Last year, the Chiefs and Packers were among the teams switching to the 3-4. In 2010, the Bills and Redskins are making the leap. To get the best recruits, more college teams will catch up to the new trends. In the meantime, you'll see players with specific skill sets suitable for 3-4 fronts sitting in the proverbial catbird seat.

    http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/blog/shutdo ... nfl,229833

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    Re: 3-4 schemes provide challenges for NFL teams in draft

    I'm starting to wonder if Mount Cody is on the board at 18 if we grab him?
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    Re: 3-4 schemes provide challenges for NFL teams in draft

    Shouldn't dismiss Cody as an option- if you look past his flabby body & see the football player- he's a BETTER 3-4 NT than Williams.

    There, it's been said.
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    Re: 3-4 schemes provide challenges for NFL teams in draft



    ....and he's just like any other 3-4 NT. If you aren't worried about their weight, they probably aren't big enough to play 33-4 NT.
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    Re: 3-4 schemes provide challenges for NFL teams in draft

    Quote Originally Posted by ramblinjim


    ....and he's just like any other 3-4 NT. If you aren't worried about their weight, they probably aren't big enough to play 33-4 NT.
    a 33-4!!!


    Pretty sure there might be a few flags thrown before the snap...
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    Re: 3-4 schemes provide challenges for NFL teams in draft

    Quote Originally Posted by Chadman
    Quote Originally Posted by ramblinjim


    ....and he's just like any other 3-4 NT. If you aren't worried about their weight, they probably aren't big enough to play 33-4 NT.
    a 33-4!!!


    Pretty sure there might be a few flags thrown before the snap...


    the scouting report against a 33-4 defense is you have to throw quick passes against it. The 33-4 is almost impossible to run against and it's very hard to block that many rushers for very long.

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    Re: 3-4 schemes provide challenges for NFL teams in draft

    this is Dom Capers' description of the 3-4 defense in Green Bay - very informative!



    A Hat on a Hat, Plus One

    The run.

    With the help of the reporters in the Packers press, peopleís understanding of what it takes to run, and stop the run, seems to be off. When you dig in deeper, who does what and why, and what it looks like when they are doing well, isnít necessarily correct when they are reported to look good or bad.

    This is a very fundamental principal. If the offense comes with as many blockers as you have defenders, there is nobody left to tackle the running back. If each offensive player wins their battle with a well designed play, an explosive play usually results. One of the fundamental principals of the pass to run philosophy, is to get the defense to back the extra defender up, in essence even up the box count for the offense. With a hat on a hat, plus one (the back), it isnít hard to run if they can execute. There are lots of different offensive strategies to running, but really, this principle is at the core of it all.

    My focus however is going to be on the defense. The defensive front 7 is poorly understood in proper context, and there are a lot of incorrect or misleading cliches floating around.

    The concept is the same, a hat on a hat, plus one. There must be an extra player that the offense canít dedicate blockers to in place to tackle the running back. When the offense blocks a corridor into the secondary, an explosive play results more often than not. Even with the best backs, explosive plays are rare when the back has no blockers beyond the line of scrimmage.

    The Line of Scrimmage.

    The ball canít go through an offensive blocker, it has to go around him. The defenses job is to close each of the gaps between the lineman. In a 1 TE set, there are 7 gaps for the defense to control. Some players control 1 gap, some players control 2. Some players donít control any. Defensive lineman (and 3-4 OLBís) at least control one gap. Most systems and play calls will ask at least 1 linebacker to control a gap. Most also leave 1 linebacker with no gap responsibilities. He is free to flow to the ball and make plays. When the defense has all gaps covered, the best the offense will muster on a run play is how much downfield push the line got. If there is a crack, and the back gets through, there is a linebacker and/or safety to make the tackle that has no gap responsibility.

    What are the players in Green Bayís new 3-4 defense responsible for? (All of these could be modified by an exotic playcall, even the most unconventional DCís donít call many exotic plays, at least for run stopping)

    The OLBís

    There are no designated strong side (TE side) and weak side outside linebackers. Dom (and most 3-4 coordinators) prefers right and left, keeping guys on the same side of the field. Each OLB is responsible for the the outside gap. The back should not be allowed to bounce the play outside. The OLB on the TE side might also be responsible for the gap between the TE and OT depending on the playcall.

    The two positions are largely the same, though of the two, typically the LOLB will be the better run defender and better as pass coverage, and the ROLB will be the better pass rusher.

    ROLB Ė Matthews, Thompson, Jones
    LOLB Ė Kampman, Poppinga, Obiozor

    The DEís

    The ends are responsible for the gap between the OG and the OT, and possibly also for the gap outside of the tackle (on the weak (non-TE) side, if the OT blocks the OLB, the DE has to be aware of and help out on that mismatch and help cover that gap). The end will typically be single blocked by either the OG or OT, though it is common for the OT to give the OLB a shove than turn to help the G double team the DE.

    There are slight differences between the two ends. Offenses align their TE on the right side much more often than the left. This makes the defensive left the strong side more often than weak. Most offenses place their better run blockers on the right side. Most offenses run (or design plays to be run, even if the back goes elsewhere) to the right more than the left. The defensive left gets run at with better run blockers typically than the defensive right. To counteract this the LDE is typically bigger and stronger than the RDE, and a better run defender. The opposite is true with the pass, and the RDE is typically a better pass rusher than the LDE, as offenses typically put their batter pass blockers on the left side, the defensive right.

    RDE Ė Jenkins, Montgomery, Wynn
    LDE Ė Jolly, Raji, Harrell, Malone

    The NT

    There is one big difference between a 4-3 NT and 3-4 NT. A normal 4-3 NT alignment places the DT in the gap between the C and G. The DT is well positioned to engage both the C and G at the snap. Unless the lineman run away from him (pull, etcÖ), with good play neither should get past him, and they shouldnít be able to move him backwards. This is different in a 3-4. Lining up directly over the C, the NT is not well positioned to stop the Gís from bypassing him and blocking the LBís, a battle that they will lose. This is why the C vs the NT must be a battle that heavily favors the NT. If they choose to skip him, he has to make them pay by defeating the C and making the stop in the backfield. The NT usually either covers one or both of the gaps on either side of the C.

    On draft day this was a concept that I donít think that many understand. The NT has to be more than a brick wall. A big slow guy doesnít cut it. Sure he may be immovable, but he gives the offense absolutely no reason to double block him. It is a fundamental flaw of a 3-4 defense, the offense can set itself up with very favorable blocking, but it only works if the NT canít consistently stop the play when only one man tries to block him. This is the reason for the premium placed on 3-4 NTís. There arenít a lot of people on this earth that can consistently dominate a single offensive lineman (the center) by themselves.

    NT Ė Pickett, Raji, Toribio

    The ILBís

    There are two distinctly different ILB positions, the SILB and WILB, strong and weak. In Domís system the SILB is named the buck, the WILB is named the mack. Unlike the OLBís, the ILBís do change sides based on which side the TE is on, with good reason. Usually if there is an uncovered gap or extra blocker, it is on the strong side. When looking at number counts, especially when a FB is involved, there are almost always as many blockers on the strong side as there are defenders. The buck and mack have very different skill sets as it relates to the run.

    The buck is a banger. Remember one of the initial premises I made, a back with no blockers isnít going very far. The buck eliminates the blockers. If there is a G coming through, mix it up with the G and try to keep him in the gap. If the FB is coming through, stop him in his tracks. The last thing you want the buck doing is shedding the blocks, unless the RB is past or nearly past him. If he sheds the blocks early and fails to tackle the back, he made matters worse, now these blockers are in the secondary, the plus one has a blocker coming his way. Not good. The buck is supposed to engage blockers, not run around them.

    If the buck has to take care of an offensive lineman, the best you can hope for is that he holds him up in the gap and doesnít get blown backward or thrown to the ground. Likewise he should hit the FB back and maintain control of the gap. The buck is essentially a small mobile defensive lineman, as it relates to the run, he almost always is part of the gap control scheme and has a gap assigned to him. He did his job if the back has to look elsewhere for an opening and if there are no blockers out in front of him.

    The mack is the playmaker. He often has no gap assigned to him. He is to seek and destroy the guy with the ball. If the rest of the front did their jobs, he should be free of blockers. If not, he should shed any block immediately or go around them in pursuit of the ball. The mack is the star of the defense. He should always be around the ball. If he is blocked, the secondary has to make the play.

    Buck Ė Hawk, Lansanah, Havner
    Mack Ė Barnett, Chillar, Bishop

    Note

    The players I listed are where they primarily have been playing thus far. The primary exceptions being Montgomery playing at LDE due to the injuries at LDE, and Poppinga and Havner playing at ROLB due to injuries there. Bishop is officially listed on the depth chart as the #2 buck ahead of Lansanah, but he has thus far been playing mack throughout camp and in the game as Barnett has been out.

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    Re: 3-4 schemes provide challenges for NFL teams in draft

    Before we get all glassy-eyed about Cody remember this - you'd be drafting (& paying 1st round money to) a 2-down player. Cody was substituted for liberally at Alabama, to the point where you could view him as a specialist.

    So aside from his obvious lack of conditioning, a physique that Kirstie Alley would love & combine measurables that would normally scream "don't draft", I would draft Cody too - in the 5th round.
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    Re: 3-4 schemes provide challenges for NFL teams in draft

    Quote Originally Posted by Steel Life
    Before we get all glassy-eyed about Cody remember this - you'd be drafting (& paying 1st round money to) a 2-down player. Cody was substituted for liberally at Alabama, to the point where you could view him as a specialist.

    So aside from his obvious lack of conditioning, a physique that Kirstie Alley would love & combine measurables that would normally scream "don't draft", I would draft Cody too - in the 5th round.
    Most 3-4 NTs are 2 down players. If it's more than 3rd and short they're usually pulled for an extra LB or DB.

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    Re: 3-4 schemes provide challenges for NFL teams in draft

    [quote=stlrz d]
    Quote Originally Posted by "Steel Life":3o1qiomp
    Before we get all glassy-eyed about Cody remember this - you'd be drafting (& paying 1st round money to) a 2-down player. Cody was substituted for liberally at Alabama, to the point where you could view him as a specialist.

    So aside from his obvious lack of conditioning, a physique that Kirstie Alley would love & combine measurables that would normally scream "don't draft", I would draft Cody too - in the 5th round.
    Most 3-4 NTs are 2 down players. If it's more than 3rd and short they're usually pulled for an extra LB or DB.[/quote:3o1qiomp]

    The problem with Cody is that he was given some very specific conditioning and weight goals by Saban that he never met. College players are under far greater control by the coaches than Cody will be as a Pro. If he shows that much of a lack of interest in college I can only imagine after his first season he shows up at the next training camp at 380lbs. He is just playing the game his agent wants him to play nby dropping a few pounds to help his draft status. Once he signs that first contract all the old bad habits will return.
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