Skip to main content

Defensive Shift

The following is an article written by Real Football Services. They will be a frequent contributor on in the weeks leading up to the draft.

Coming from a long line of defensive-minded coaches, new Jets coach Eric Mangini is expected to switch his team back to the 3-4 alignment that was so successful under Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, and Al Groh in New York with the Jets in the late 1990's, and with the Giants in the 80's. The Jets will join a growing list of teams that have made the switch. New England, Dallas, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, San Diego and San Francisco all currently run a variation of that defense, and several other teams, including the AFC East rival Miami Dolphinsare expected to at least experiment with 3-4 packages in their defensive playbook.

But the switch requires a substantial change in personnel and playing style. The three-man front requires bigger linemen whose primary responsibility is to occupy two gaps and let the linebackers run to the ball and make plays. Though these linemen, particularly the ends, must have the speed and ability to also rush the passer, they must possess the size and bulk to anchor against bigger linemen in the running game. In the 3-4 front, the defensive ends line up between the guard and tackle with a stand up OLB lining up on the tackle's outside shoulder. So their ability to hold their ground and occupy two blockers is a key to the success of this defense.

The linebackers must be athletic and fast. These players need to have a nose for the ball and the versatility to rush the passer, defend the run, and drop into coverage. In the 3-4 scheme, the linebackers will be asked to make plays all over the field. Think Mo Lewis and Marvin Jones in their prime when both were making 100-120 tackles a year, and were among the team leaders in interceptions and sacks.

The Jets free agency signings lend credence to that theory. The Jets signed 300-pound DE's Kimo von Oelhoffen from the Super Bowl champion Steelers, and Monsanto Pope from Denver. They also acquired a big, athletic LB in Matt Chatham (6'4", 250) from New England, who may challenge for a starting spot at OLB. Likewise, the switch meant a departure for some players, most notably DE John Abraham. While the three-time Pro Bowler has played OLB and has experience as a stand-up pass rusher, his advancing age and recent knee injury may have stolen a step from his natural speed and his ability to change direction and work in coverage. He is primarily a pass rusher and best suited to a 4-3 scheme. Former DE Bryan Thomas however, will try to make the switch to OLB. The knock on Thomas has always been his lack of size and inability to shed blockers. He will now have more opportunity to play in open space and use his speed and athleticism to his advantage. Other players, like undersized DT's James Reed and Lance Legree lack the strength and bulk to anchor the middle of the line and don't fit the mold of the 3-4 defense.

Despite their efforts to build the defense through free agency, the Jets will still have to utilize draft picks to solidify their new defense. In New England, Mangini's mentor, Belichick, has made a habit of stockpiling defensive linemen and linebackers so that he can morph his scheme to include any variety of packages, including a 4-3 look. And remember, Belichick was the man behind the two-man front that worked so effectively against Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills all the way back in Super Bowl XXV. So expect the Jets, even in the late rounds to look for defensive talent that can fill any number of roles in the front seven.

Though Shaun Ellis, at 6'4", 285, and von Oelhoffen figure to be the starters, another DE is needed to provide depth. The inside LB's, Jonathan Vilma and Eric Barton are the ideal playmakers for this defense and will be protected by bigger linemen at the DT position like Dewayne Robertson and Sione Pouha. However, OLB Victor Hobson may lack the speed and athleticism to provide what the team is now looking for, and though Chatham could serve as his replacement, the team will look for a top line athletic LB to fill the slot. Likewise, on the other side, Bryan Thomas is currently listed as the starter, but he lacks NFL experience at the position.

With their first pick, the Green & White could have their choice of DE Mario Williams, DT Haloti Ngata, or Ohio State OLB A.J. Hawk, all players who would fit well in the new scheme and could likely have an immediate impact in their rookie season. With the 29th overall pick, they could be in a position to draft another Ohio State OLB, Bobby Carpenter, or Texas DT Rodrique Wright who also has the ability to play DE in a 3-4 front. At the top of the second round they could look at Michigan DT Gabe Watson, who is an excellent run stuffer and gap plugger at 6'3", 339, and they would be fortunate to have Purdue DE Ray Edwards fall to them at the top of the third round. Finally, expect Mangini and company to take a good, hard look at some undersized or tweener DE's who have the speed and athletic ability to make the move to OLB. Indiana's Victor Adeyanju, a 6'4", 265-pound DE who ran a 4.6 40 and a 4.41 short shuttle in postseason workouts, is a prime candidate for such a move.

Of course the Jets have many other needs to address in the draft along the offensive line, at RB, TE, and WR, and they could use depth at CB. But with the defensive switch looming, expect the team to at least consider some of these players.Related Real Football Content:Depth at QuarterbackGood Draft Position

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content