Quite recently I've been reading a lot on the internet that suggests much concern about our defense this upcoming season. Now a lot of this concern is valid, but I think some of it is pure speculation. Looking at our defense at this very moment I think we have many pieces to not only a 3-4 defense, but to the 3-4 hybrid defense that Mike Nolan will implement. Some of these pieces haven't played a down in the NFL, and other of these players are making position switches this very offseason. That doesn't mean that they won't fit in our defense right away, and for many of these players I have strong evidence to suggest that they will fit in our defensive schemes. Here are some newcoming or questionable starters that I think will fit right into Mike Nolan's defense. I will start with the players I am most confident to perform their roles in our defense.
1. Weakside OLB Cameron Wake- When you think about a 3-4 weakside OLB, the main priority that immediately comes to mind is a pass rush. It is nice to have to a weakside linebacker that drop back in coverage and stop the run, but 70% of the time a weakside linebacker rushes the passer. Cameron Wake has proven to everyone he is a dynamic pass rusher. He may have only had 5.5 sacks, but his pass rush production for the limited number of snaps is up there with the best of them. For those of you extremely concerned about weather or not Wake can become a complete linebacker, I would just ask yourself about how much of a complete linebacker Porter was.Porter couldn't drop back or stop the run, and quite frankly, he couldn't rush the passer last year. I think Wake does have the skill set to become a complete linebacker, but if the biggest problem in our defense is Wake not being a complete linebaker I think we will be more than alright.
2. Nose tackle Randy Starks- Randy Starks was clearly our best defensive linemen last year (and one of the best in league). We know the skill set he brings to the table, the question now is can Randy use that same skill set while occupying two blockers? Randy has had experience playing inside as a 4-3 defensive tackle.Starks has also played NT in our scheme on passing downs or for lack of other options (Ferguson and Soliai both out in the 2008 Ravens game). I'd like to talk about that Ravens game for a brief moment. A common misconception is that the Ravens' running game really excelled because Starks was forced into playing as our nose tackle. If you go back to the film in that game, it's clear that Randy dominated one of the best centers in the game, Jason Brown. The poor performance from our inside linebackers and defensive ends was what allowed the Ravens to run so well, not the performance from Starks.Not to mention that Starks' game has improved much since that game. Look at the success the trio was able to have with a nose tackle with similar size and athleticism in Jay Ratliff.
3. Strongside OLB Koa Misi- I'm sure most of you already know this but a 3-4 strongside OLB doesn't place such a strong emphasis on the pass rush as the weakside does. A strongside OLB is known to be a much more versatile player. A strongside OLB has to be the complete linebacker that I was referring to with Wake earlier in this post. He has to drop back in coverage, jam tight ends at the line of scrimmage, stop the run, and rush the passer. I strongly believe that Misi can do all these things. At the senior bowl Misi played a 4-3 OLB, and played it well. The fact that Misi was able to successfully play a 4-3 OLB testifies to his comfort in dropping back in coverage. At Utah, Misi even played defensive tackle when asked to. This shows Misi's abilities to stop the run. So Misi has played as a 4-3 outside linebacker and a defensive tackle througout his collegiate career. I mean he was clearly one of the most versatile players in this year's draft. I know that the Dolphins have only had practices in pads so far, but it seems as if all his teammates are already raving about him. When Jake Long compliments your pass rush ability (surprised Mr. Long knows what a pass rush is), you know you have a chance to be special.
4. Jared Odrick DE- The best 5-technique in the draft. Odrick was coveted by many 3-4 teams (the Jets esp. one pick after us), and with good reason. He's big, strong, and pretty darn athletic for his size. If you put on some film from him at Penn State, there is one thing that jumps out at you: gap penatration. Something that is required of Mike Nolan's defense (which makes the Starks move to NT even more understandable). Senior Bowl, the kid was unblockable. Did he play a little too high in some game? Yes, but that's very coachable.
If you look at all these players you will notice they all have excelled in a 4-3 defense (keep in mind we are running a hybrid). Odrick became a first round pick playing as a 4-3 DT. Randy Starks played as a 4-3 DT at Tennessee. Koa Misi played as a 4-3 OLB at the senior bowl. Cameron Wake played a DE in the CFL, and honestly would probably be better as a full-time 4-3 DE (doesn't need to drop back). The point is that all these players have the versatility to play in both a 4-3 and 3-4 defense. All these players have proven themselves in a 4-3, and I have strong evidence to suggest they can do the same in a 3-4.
I'm sure most of you already know, but Mike Nolan likes to use the 2-4-5 defense on obvious passing downs. Due to the versatility of the players I just mentioned, the potential of this defense is unlimited. The way I see this lineup is Starks and Odrick as the two down linemen, Wake and Misi as the two outside backers, Dansby and Edds as the two inside backers (Edds because we're using this on obvious passing downs), Clemons and Bell as the safeties, Smith, Davis, and Allen as the corners (Allen being the nickel). I think this defense is a small contributing fact to taking Odrick because I don't feel any other defensive linemen not named Starks could get pressure from this position. This defense is so unpredictable. Let's say we blitz Dansby from the inside, Misi and Wake from the outside. That's five legitimate pass rushers coming at the quarterback. Five guys blitzing can lead to a few one-on-one match-ups. I have a hard time believing that with so many good pass rushers, not one of our defenders will not win his match-up. Or you can drop back Misi,and have eight players who are known to be good in coverage dropping back. That type of vesatility, those unpredictable schemes leads to hesitation and confusion from opposing quarterbacks. I think this 2-4-5 defense will be the number one reason why you will see so much improvement in our defense this season.