Mailbag: 3/22/10 (3-4 OLB’s, Taylor Mays, Marion Barber to Fullback)
Q: Why does everybody look for college defensive ends to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense? Why not move a fast 6’3”, 260lb guy to inside linebacker?
John Coleman, Bassett, VA
A: The reason 3-4 outside linebackers are generally college defensive ends has to do with the similarities between the positions. Both 3-4 OLB’s and 4-3 DE’s are almost always rushing the passer. They develop similar pass-rush moves and, although a 3-4 OLB rushes from a standing position, the general mindset of the two positions is equivalent.
An inside linebacker does not rush the quarterback. He may come on blitzes from time to time, but the primary goal of an ILB is not to sack the quarterback–it is to read a play and react by either stuffing a run or dropping into coverage.
Thus, the positional designation of a player is not solely determined by size and speed, but more so by skill set. College defensive ends, although sometimes the same size as a 3-4 inside backer, rarely have the fluidity and change of direction to efficiently drop into ILB coverages. Remember that speed is not everything. Just because a college DE runs a 4.6 does not mean he has the quickness or the hips to play ILB.
3-4 outside backers, on the other hand, are almost always rushing the quarterback. When they are not, they are very rarely asked to do anything but drop into the flat.
It is these differences in athleticism and mindset that make a transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 inside linebacker basically non-existent.
Q: Why do you guys hate USC safety Taylor Mays so much? He is an incredible athlete and even if he can’t play safety, the Cowboys could move him to linebacker.
Jeremy Frederick, Arlington, TX
A: We don’t hate Taylor Mays. He is a hard-worker and a good kid. We simply think he would be a poor fit in Dallas. As you point out, he is certainly an incredible athlete. Incredible athletes don’t necessarily win games though. Good football players win games.
In our opinion, Mays does not properly translate his athleticism to the football field. He was rather unproductive at USC, particularly the last two seasons.
If Dallas does make a change at safety, it will likely be for a “ball-hawk.” Mays is a hard hitter and possesses great straight-line speed, but the last thing we would characterize him as is a “ball-hawk.”
At 230 pounds, Mays is also way too undersized to play linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Further, why would the Cowboys want to invest a first round pick in a player who would take a few years to transition to a position he has never before played?
Q: Is it possible for the Cowboys to move Marion Barber to fullback? Deon Anderson might not be back, and it would allow two talented ball-carriers to be on the field together. Thanks!
Alicia Packard, Tampa Bay, FL
A: Barber has lined up at fullback in the past, particularly in short-yardage situations. The Cowboys don’t generally call traditional running plays (power, lead, iso) with Barber at fullback. Quite frankly, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has been rather predictable in these situations, either handing the ball off to Barber on a dive or faking the dive and pitching outside to Felix Jones.
There do seem to be some situations where Barber could be used effectively at fullback, particularly on pass plays (as he is excellent as both a receiver out of the backfield and in pass protection).
The problem is Barber has little experience being a lead blocker, so designating him as a true fullback is not an option. He can be a “specialty fullback” (if there is such a thing), but utilizing him consistently in a Deon Anderson-esque role is not going to be successful.
Let’s just hope for these reasons that Deon Anderson returns to the team in 2010.