Thursday, April 30, 2009

How the Linebackers WILL Be Used

by: Michael Steffes

Shortly after announcing the Leroy Hill deal, Jim Mora made an appearance on KIRO 710. Here is that interview.

One of the more interesting things that came out of the interview was Mora going into a little detail about how he plans to use the linebackers. Here is what he had to say:

Leroy will play the "Will," which is the weak inside linebacker position. Aaron will play "Sam," which is the strong outside linebacker position. The we structure our defense is that they are both typically off the line of scrimmage, playing behind defensive linemen and using their athletic ability to run. There is not a whole lot of differences in what they do. Some small subtle differences, but you'll see three fast, physical, athletic, linebackers working together, and it will be exciting to see.
While we still won't see this "West Coast Defense" in action for quite some time, this does shed some light on how they will be used, especially if we take into account the traditional roles in the Tampa 2.

First, in a traditional Tampa 2, the Sam linebacker's primary responsibility on running plays is to take on the leader blocker -- in other words, to fill the hole. This allows the Will and "Mike" (middle linebacker), in this case Hill and Tatupu, to flow to the ball and make tackles. Hill is easily the best run defending linebacker on the team, at least until Curry unseats him. Lofa is fantastic at what he does, but in the run game he has a tendency to get caught up in blocks more than Hill does.

The second reason this works is that having Curry play the Sam generally puts him on the same side of the field as the tight end. This is what Hill was doing last year. Obviously, at times the Sam linebacker has to jam and then cover the tight end, or cover the short zone (known as "the flat") to guard against screen passes and dump-offs. This is said to be the area in which Curry greatly excels much more than Hill. His ability to cover from the linebacker position should be a huge asset. He is better than either Hill or Peterson in this aspect of the game. The Sam is the linebacker that is usually removed in favor of a defensive back, so Curry's undeniable athletic ability make keep him on the field more often than most Sam linebackers.

In essence, the team is trying to free up Hill to do a little more roaming and chasing to the ball than he did previously, while providing Curry the opportunity to make plays in space. Hopefully this will also translate into more opportunities for Hill to rush the passer. The difficulty here for Curry is that he will have to do a good job recognizing and diagnosing plays. I heard some people criticize that particular aspect of his game, so this will be something I am sure the team will work on extensively with him. The good news is that Curry will have one of the best in the business at diagnosing what is about to happen right next to him in Lofa Tatupu.

As for how they end up being used to rush the passer, that could change from week to week depending on the opponent. But for the base defense -- or at least how Mora seems to be explaining it -- the abilities of the linebackers will seemingly be used to their fullest. END