The philosophy of using part-time players in the game of football is nothing new.
On the whole, there are increasingly fewer three-down players in the NFL who play the game from start to finish. Quarterbacks do it if they’re good enough. Offensive linemen typically play an entire game. So do certain members of the defensive secondary.
There’s always a few more exceptions to the rule––many linebackers stay on the field––but other football players are constantly rotated in and out of the game. Wide receivers and tight ends are used like pieces on a chess board. The third-down running back has become a niche role.
On defense, mammoth defensive linemen are shuffled in and out to stay fresh. And the nickel and dime packages that have been used for decades try to get more cover guys on the field at the expense of extra linemen.
But with the NFL becoming increasingly more and more pass oriented every year with more three, four and even five wide receiver sets, it appears as if it’s time for defenses to adapt as well.
I’ve hypothesized about the Packers running some sort of hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense this season based upon their signings of 4-3 type defensive linemen Tony Hargrove and Daniel Muir as well as their interest in 4-3 end Dave Tollefson.
It’s very possible the Packers could run some sort of hybrid or 4-3 schemes in 2012, but by taking a closer look at some of the players they drafted, maybe they’re considering more situational players. Head coach Mike McCarthy hinted as much in his Sunday press conference.
“I think it will give us more versatility in how we play defense as far as the different defensive personnel groups, playing maybe more people than we did in the past,” said McCarthy. “The fact that we did score so many points quite often put stresses on our defense that we had not had before. That’s something that we spend a lot of time looking as a coaching staff.
“We feel like we could do a better job of being more creative in utilizing our personnel in the subpackages. The ability to get more athletic, and the ability to have more pass rush from both the inside and outside players on the defense was a focus. And I think that’s reflected with the people we’ve acquired both in free agency and the Draft.”
You saw the Packers make a bold move in the divisional round playoff game against the Giants earlier this year when they played Jarrett Bush at cornerback on early downs to take advantage of his aggressiveness and tackling ability and Sam Shields on late downs for his speed and coverage. That might have been the tip of the iceberg.
Two players from the Draft in particular seem suited for part-time, specialist roles, especially early in their careers: Iowa defensive lineman Mike Daniels and North Carolina State linebacker Terrell Manning. Both played in 4-3 schemes in college.
At 6-0 and 291 pounds, Daniels doesn’t have the ideal size and bulk to hold up against the run in the base 3-4 defense. But he does have the quickness to become a penetrator and a disruptive force on the pass rush.
It’s difficult to imagine Daniels being ever being used––or at least very sparingly––in the base 3-4 for the Packers. But when they go to their nickel subpackage, he would seem like an ideal candidate to slide inside to create some havoc in the opponents’ offensive backfield.
As for Manning, he played weak-side linebacker in a 4-3 scheme off the line of scrimmage at N.C. State. But more than likely he’ll have to become an inside linebacker in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ system.
What Manning brings to the table is athleticism and hustle, the ability to make plays from sideline to sideline with his quickness.
While Desmond Bishop, A.J. Hawk and D.J. Smith are all “thumpers” at inside linebacker, Manning is the type of player who could be brought in on passing downs in order to utilize that athletcism.
Fans have seen Hawk and Bishop get exposed in coverage by having to cover bigger receivers and faster running backs, but Manning would be ideally suited to run with them.
And when not in coverage, it’s easy to envision Manning being used on the blitz, whether from the outside or up the gut.
I also think Jerel Worthy will also be used as a pass-rush specialist early in his career, although I think he has the versatility to be a three-down player like B.J. Raji in time.
Take those moves in the Draft into consideration along with the speculation that Charles Woodson could be moved to safety, and you could see a fair amount of subpackage players with speciality roles.
Woodson is still very effective defending from the slot, but will the Packers be comfortable with him on the perimeter in the base 3-4? Could he play safety in base and slot in subpackages?
That could open up a role for rookie Jerron McMillian, for example, to ease into a more prominent role by playing primarily on passing downs this season while not having the pressure of being a full-time player.
No one is saying this is all is going to happen. At this point, it’s mere speculation.
But the possibilities are intriguing.