If you thought defenses were confused by the read option, don't expect things to get any less complicated.
For the past couple of years, teams were shifting out of the 3-4 defense and going to the 4-3. This offseason, the Cleveland Browns and New Orleans Saints switched to 3-4s. The Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles are considering the same switch. Only the Dallas Cowboys opted to go from 3-4 to 4-3.
Based on Monday's workouts of defensive linemen and linebackers, the future is going to be even more confusing. More players from this year's draft are going to give defensive coordinators the chance to run even more hybrid schemes. Wade Phillips, a longtime defensive coordinator who is now with the Houston Texans, says the only difference between the two schemes is one more player having a hand on the ground in the 4-3 than the 3-4.
This draft is loaded with incredible athletes who can play defensive end or pass-rushing outside linebacker. That is important when defenses are trying to match up against teams with read-option quarterbacks. At the moment, most defenses haven't figured out the best way to stop great read-option quarterbacks.
There is a contention by some strategists that it's better to stop the read option with a 3-4 because two outside linebackers can better seal the edge. Thanks to the success of Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III, plenty of imagination is going into this offseason of defensive strategy.
At least this draft is loaded with players who can give teams options.
Here's what we learned Monday:
1. A slow 40-yard dash time will top any "catfishing" in deflating the value of a player. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o came out of Saturday's interview session with the national media and 20 team interviews at the combine with the impression that his fake girlfriend incident didn't drop his first-round grade. Te'o, his agents and those who prepared him for the interviews had to feel good. But Monday deflated the entire group. Te'o ran a 4.82 40 and could have possibly dropped out of the first round. Teams need fast linebackers who can drop into coverage and chase down tight ends or fast running backs. Unless Te'o improves that 4.82, he might get some second-round grades. This doesn't mean he can't be an every-down player. Some might compare him to St. Louis Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis. In his first season, Laurinaitis established himself as an every-down linebacker, but he wasn't drafted until the second round. He ran a 4.82 and went 35th. The good news for Te'o is that he has time to improve his 40. Still, you have to feel for him. The embarrassment of the "catfishing" girlfriend story, a bad game against Alabama and now a bad 40 time have made his past several months rough.
2. Let's get "Ziggy" about the defensive ends. Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah was one of the top stories of Monday's combine. He went to BYU to play basketball and run track. But despite limited exposure to football, he might have vaulted his stock into the top 15 of the draft. Ansah, at 6-foot-5 and 271 pounds, ran a 4.63 40 and looked sensational in drills. More and more he looks like the next Jason Pierre-Paul. A year ago, Ansah wasn't on the radar of most teams. Now, he's the fastest-rising player in the draft. Another big winner was Barkevious Mingo of Louisiana State, who blistered a 4.58 40. Many of these quick ends could play linebacker. Teams believe there are about half a dozen players talented enough to be taken in the first two rounds who could be pass-rushing defensive ends or pass-rush linebackers.
3. A beast has emerged from SMU. This one doesn't figure. Margus Hunt is 6-foot-8 and 277 pounds. He ran a 4.6 40. He bench pressed 225 pounds 38 times. He had a 38-inch vertical jump. Hunt went to SMU as a gold medalist in the shot put and discus at the 2006 World Junior Championships. Entering the combine, he was considered a low first-rounder or a second-round prospect. He had eight sacks and 11½ tackles behind the line of scrimmage. With an 82-inch wingspan, the sky is the limit for Hunt. Just pity the quarterback he is chasing.
4. What an impressive group of defensive linemen and linebackers. This was considered to be a draft of offensive linemen, safeties and front-seven defenders. Monday didn't disappoint. Twenty-three of the 37 defensive linemen who worked out ran sub-5-second 40s. The linebacking corps wasn't as fast, but there still were impressive runs. Zaviar Gooden of Missouri had a 4.47. Cornelius Washington of Georgia was impressive with a 4.55. There were enough 4.6 40 times to entice defensive coaches to be happy. But the defensive line numbers were incredible.