The Cleveland Browns will be using a new defensive scheme under Gregg Williams. It is up to the linebackers already on the roster to adapt.
With a new defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, at the helm, a big change will be seeing the Cleveland Browns players in the front seven possibly change positions.
However, the biggest challenge will come from the linebackers and their new scheme. With Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey the only obvious locks to start, and Demario Davis being traded to the Jets, one other starting spot is available but it might not be as simple as plug and play. Before we talk about the linebackers on the roster, lets differentiate the schemes.
To start with, a 3-4 scheme is having two defensive ends facing the offensive tackles, a nose tackle placed over the center, two middle linebackers placed hovering over the offensive guards and two outside linebackers who are placed outside the defensive ends.
The two middle linebackers responsibilities will change depending on the strong side of the offense, which typically is the side the tight end is on. They will either play spy on the quarterback or possibly blitz their gap that they cover. The outside linebacker is typically just an edge rusher, Von Miller is a prime example. However, they may also follow the running back out the backfield on pass plays.
In a 4-3, there are two defensive tackles (one hovers in between the center-guard gap while the other is on the opposite side between the guard and tackle), two defensive ends, and three linebackers. The middle linebacker (MIKE), the strong side linebacker (SAM) and the weak side linebacker.
The MIKE is essentially the quarterback of the defense who stops the inside runs, plays zone coverage as well as press man coverage when needed. The SAM follows the side the tight end is on and will typically cover him or the running back and will blitz but isn’t necessarily the better of the coverage linebackers. The WILL is usually the best cover man of the corp and will blitz on occasion but not as often as the SAM will.
Now that you have all the info you need on the difference of the schemes, let’s take a look at how it will affect the linebacker corps from last year going into 2017 and who will/won’t adapt to it.
Joe Schobert started last season as a rookie but only registered 28 tackles and a half sack. The Browns are hopeful that he can take a step forward in year two but this scheme change could be a problem.
Do you know what position Schobert played at the University of Wisconsin? Outside linebacker in 3-4 system. Know what he was drafted to be last season? An outside linebacker in a 3-4 system.
In his second season, he not only has he had to undergo a coaching change but a positional one as well. He isn’t the only one but it doesn’t look good for Joe.
Nate Orchard is listed as 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, which is similar playing weight of a defensive end. Which actually, may be the best thing. I’ll use similar logic I used previously with Joe Schobert.
At Utah, Orchard was a 4-3 defensive end and had success with 18.5 sacks his senior season. However, he was drafted by Cleveland and went from putting his hand in the dirt to standing up to rush, which isn’t his game. Orchard could actually be someone who succeeds in this switch, but a position switch could be the reason it happens or not.
Similar to Orchard, Cam Johnson is too big to play an outside linebacker in a 4-3 and a position change could benefit. However, unlike Orchard, it probably won’t. Cam Johnson has been a 6-foot-4, 270 pound player who can’t stand up and cover and hasn’t played with his hands. This system just won’t help him.
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If Cam Johnson were going to excel, it would have happened already but he’s five seasons in, on his fourth team and is 27 and not getting any younger. At this point, he is probably too set in his ways and could actually be one of the veteran cuts that occurs after the preseason.
Tank Carder is going from a 3-4 inside linebacker to a 4-3 middle linebacker so his transition won’t be nearly as difficult as it will for others. However, I wouldn’t expect him to jump in and steal the starting job.
Entering his fifth season, his entire career he has only played in 30 games with just two starts. His main role has and will likely continue to be primarily a special teams player, adding depth to the position.
Ironically, this is the man who was the backup to Demario Davis last season, and who could very well end up being the person who fills his role at the MIKE. Having played a MIKE at Oklahoma (played all 39 games in three years with 34 starts) and played an inside linebacker last season with limited playing time.
So going back to his natural position not only could be a benefit, but he could be the player who has the best and most effortless change than any other player on this list. Expect Alexander to be in the mix at MIKE and don’t be too surprised if he’s the day one starter.