First off I want to state I’m not for a change of defensive schemes. The 5-2 (really in overload 3-4) is built to apply pressure to the QB and disrupt the running game by forcing the offensive line to react to gap pressure killing the run before the blocking ever has a chance to develop. Its predicated on an elite pass rusher, interior pressure and average (or better) CB play to give a chance for the defense to host their meeting with the opponents QB (or RB) as the guest of dishonor. Any real change of a defensive scheme is going to cause turmoil especially when the Oline needs work and there is so much need to get some quality depth at CB.
Second a lot of us on the board have proposed alternate schemes and the 4-3 has come up quite often. That said what really is a 4-3 defense?
Well there are few such as the (in)famous Tampa 2. In general the LBs play further away from the line of scrimmage then in a 3-4 and have primarily a coverage responsibility. A 4-3 is based on taking away the short passing game and getting to the QB by shortening the distance the rushers have to go to get to him. It’s a popular scheme as only the DE’s and the MLB are positions of need and its flexible with a million different variations. My preferred version the LBs play close to the line of scrimmage and have a react first, read second philosophy. Meaning that each player, based on pre-snap reads each are coached to do one thing first and react on the fly.
The main weakness of the 4-3 is its considered to be soft up the middle against the run, as the only person in the middle of the field is the MLB. If you haven’t guessed by now the MLB in a 4-3 is critical as he HAS to be able to shred blocks and make tackles in the run game and take a RB or TE in the pass game and be a part time superman. He has to diagnose screens, fakes and reverses and adjusts the defense on the fly. He has the most to do and read before the play starts and if he is wrong the only people capable of fixing the MLB mistakes are the safeties. In an over simplistic view the MLB is your defense at the second level. 4-3s have a tendency to give up big plays as there are fewer second level players that can adjust to a play should someone miss a tackle or guess wrong.
So how do the current personal stack up? Well overall there are some parts that work out ok and others that well would be a work in progress. Here is a quick and simplistic look at duties and responsibilities using the current personnel on the roster with one exception.
DLINE: Merc, Crick, Watt, (Clowney?)
Justification: The line needs to apply pressure for this scheme to work. Merc is a college DE and the attack first principle of the DE doesn’t really matter if your undersized, his job is to beat the RT who might be getting help from the TE. Watt is an absolute terror on the inside and when placed against tackles he destroys them and consumes their souls. He also clogs running lanes and disrupts passing lanes by being here. The other DE? I don’t think he exists on the roster yet (as I keep Reed a LB). Placing Clowney on the line next to Watt creates mismatch nightmares as who are you going to double team? Do you leave your LG on an island and double team Watt with a center and the LT? This leaves the middle open for a safety or MLB. Also Smith may come back for a team friendly deal, if he does he may be the starting end or he may be the quality back up. There are a lot of possibilities here but its all speculation.
Depth: better than most of the positions.
Strong Side OLB: Reed
Justification: A SOLB needs to be athletic and strong so he can cover and play the run. He has the least freedom of all the LBs as he has a host of responsibilities. He covers the TE in a pass play or on the run has to play contain on the outside. Ideally he would make a play and bypass the blockers and get to the RB. In some situations he may blitz.
Depth: Mays? And this scares me
Justification: A top 5 LB who is athletic, strong, can cover, rush the passer who is a fantastic tackler and gives tips to superman on how to go about his business, there is nothing not to love about this.
Depth: The Glass Unicorn but it’s a poor fit. But to be honest most teams struggle to find a quality back up. There is a reason the best LBs are taken early in the draft.
Weak Side OLB: Trevando? Sharpton?
Justification: I just don’t know about this one. These guys are small LBs or converted safety’s. They need to be sure tacklers, be able to cover and have to be fast. They are primarily responsible for providing more edge pressure or covering a RB in the pass game. They also have the most freedom and can react to the play as needed.
Depth: Sharpton? Keo? and before you laugh at that hes a sound tackler and Jerrod Mayo was a safety who a few people laughed at when it was suggested that they move him to LB. In fairness this is an easy position to fill as there are plenty of LBs or Safeties who can pull duty here.
DBs: Nothing really changes here. CB is still a mess.
For the 4 of you who will wind up reading this thank you. Its an over simplistic look at a 4-3 but I hope it sheds some light on what each position needs and who can fill it.