After yesterday’s post looking in more depth at Kamerion Wimbley’s personal attributes as a pass rusher, it’s worth spending some time looking at how he might fit in the defense.
With Jerry Gray’s comments that he spent much of 2011 running mostly a Chuck Cecil defense, it’s tough to say exactly what Gray will do. We can look at old materials, but we don’t know how he’s adapted in the years since he last ran a defense. What he did make clear, though, is that he’ll be running a 4-3 Under.
To get more insight into what Gray’s version of the 4-3 Under might entail, I thought it was worth taking a look at what Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has done. Whatever Carroll’s other attributes (i.e., I’m not going to write about leaving USC for a lucrative NFL job once step ahead of NCAA sanctions), he has (a) a long, very respectable defensive pedigree, and (b) he has an extended recent history where his preferred schemes have been implemented and adjusted as need be. His defenses are worth looking at for the same reasons Kevin Gilbride’s New York Giants are worth looking at on the other side of the ball. (Plus, Gray was a position coach for Carroll the same way Palmer was one for Gilbride.)
For Wimbley’s weakside rush end position, though, Carroll uses an adaptation, what he calls the “Leo” position, that I’m not sure Gray will necessarily use. As this explanation notes, the Leo is a speed-oriented endbacker-type position. That position is currently filled in Seattle by Chris Clemons. Whereas Wimbley’s history is as a linebacker mostly in the 3-4 but also in the 4-3, Clemons was a 4-3 defensive end before playing in the 4-3 Under, where he may line up either standing up or with his hand in the dirt. He’s similarly-sized, 6’3 254#, to Wimbley’s 6’4 255#, and like Wimbley is a speed rusher.
Clemons has been the Seahawks’ top sacker under Carroll, with 11.0 sacks in each of the past two seasons, and enough hurries to indicate the sack numbers aren’t a fluke. More of Wimbley’s sacks came with his hand in the dirt than I anticipated, but if you’re looking for a model of who he might be, Clemons is the man. One thing the Leo does we’ll probably also see from Wimbley is the zone blitz drop. The Titans zone-blitzed a lot last year, third-most in the league, with Morgan the defensive lineman who dropped the most. For Wimbley to match Clemons is probably a slightly optimistic but realistic expectation.
For more on the desired attributes in the weakside defensive end in the 4-3 Under, it’s worth looking at Carroll’s remarks in detail:
The best pass rusher on the team is usually the defensive end to the open side of the field. That puts him on the quarterback’s blind side and makes him a C gap player in this defense. We often align him wider than this in order to give him a better angle of attack and allow him to play in space. We align him a yard outside of the offensive tackle most of the time. He has to play C gap run support but at the same time he is rushing the passer like it is third and ten. He has to be able to close down however if the tackle blocks down on him.
One of the things I noticed watching Wimbley’s sacks is that a lot of his sacks did come from lining up particularly widely, not just in a normal 7-tech but the wide-9. It’ll be interesting to see a Titans player do that regularly again.
Of course, one of the things we saw over and over, and as Eagles fans learned to their dismay last season, when you have a defensive end coming from the far, far outside like that, you need to have the linebacker(s) behind him compensate for that. The linebacker playing behind/near Wimbley will be the weakside linebacker. It’s worth going back to Carroll again for what he looks for in a Will:
[The Will] is generally protected in the defensive schemes and will not see as many blocks. All you want him to do most plays is flow and chase the football. We want our fastest linebacker at this position.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds an awful lot like Zach Brown, or at least the player they drafted Zach Brown to be, to me. Then again, the job doesn’t end there. With a smaller defensive end looking to speed rush a lot, it’s easy to see him getting overwhelmed or enveloped by an offensive lineman or even a tight end or fullback. That places extra pressure on that Will linebacker to not just play in space and flow to the football, but also to not get sucked up. The ideal way to counteract that I heard described by former Bucs defensive end Steve White, about how Derrick Brooks, who played Will, used to sort of two-gap, making it look to offenses how he was responsible for one gap when in fact he was responsible for a different gap. That’s a rare and advanced thing for a linebacker to be able to do, but does give an indication as to why the Titans might want to keep Will Witherspoon at the position instead of immediately thrusting Brown into the starting lineup.
There’s a lot more on the 4-3 Under that I didn’t get into in this post, and as we see Gray’s scheme unfold in the regular season, I’ll be writing more about it then. In the meantime, it’s worth taking a look at these two speeches by Carroll. I also found a number of posts by Seahawks bloggers looking detail, including a two–part introduction, defensive line player types, this analysis of how the actual players on the Seahawks fit into those types, and a look at run defense by sides, trying to determine the effect of the Leo. There’ll be more to say in the season about all of those things and more.