It seems natural to want to fit all three of your stud d-lineman in the same scheme. With Big Mo back, the New York Jets have thinking to do.
It’s often said that good coaches mold a scheme around personnel. Instead of forcing a specific way of business down their players throats, they toy and tinker to fit the unique cards they’re holding.
Hopefully Todd Bowles is one of those guys.
We think he is. He’s always been one who’s considered himself a versatile defensive mind, a guy who can conveniently teach and prepare his defense in a ready fashion to play a three or four-man defensive front.
We saw this on full display last season.
Now that Muhammad Wilkerson is officially back for the long term, however, that versatile mindset might actually have to be kicked up a notch.
It boils down to simple mathematics. The New York Jets possess three stud defensive lineman in Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams and Big Mo. It only makes sense to have all three of these every down lineman on the field at the same time.
Unfortunately, none of these three are big enough to play the nose tackle in a 3-4. This forces at least one to be sidelined in the base 3-4 at all times.
Sheldon attempted to shift to a 3-4 outside linebacker a year ago, but the results were disastrous.
Check out this example from Week 17 from a season ago:
Richardson was in the classic stand-up 3-4 OLB position, but simply couldn’t contain the mobile Tyrod Taylor. He’s not quick enough to play the position.
The guy who played out of position when Bowles wanted to get all three on the field at once was Wilkerson, as he played the edge in sub-packages. Leonard and Sheldon would play the interior, while Mo would man one edge while a more pure edge rusher such as Lorenzo Mauldin would take the other side.
This is the four-man front that Bowles will look to incorporate into base defenses as well. And now that Wilkerson is here through 2020, Leonard is under contract until 2019, and Sheldon is Jet-owned through 2017, this idea of the 4-3 base will be a very realistic one.
Here’s the setup:
Although he’s better served out-quicking guards rather than out-powering tackles, Wilkerson has enough versatile ability to get it done. Mauldin, Trevor Reilly or rookie Jordan Jenkins would immediately feel at home on the other defensive end spot.
The question will revolve around the linebackers.
David Harris has never played in the 4-3 before. By the time he arrived in New York, Eric Mangini had already made the Jets a 3-4 base. Now, at 32-years old and lacking sideline-to-sideline speed, Harris as the middle backer in this type of setup could bring some concerns to the table.
Frankly, though, it doesn’t matter.
Any concerns Harris might bring to the table are washed away by the speed rookie Darron Lee would present in the setup. Lee is a smallish linebacker. He will be used on more than 50 percent of defensive plays in 2016 (as this new pass-happy NFL allows sub-packages to become prevalent).
Should Bowles feature the 4-3 more, however, Lee could be an every down guy.
This isn’t to say he can’t play the other inside linebacker in a 3-4, but his frame and skill set seamlessly fit the WILL position in a 4-3.
Bowles will most definitely use a ton of four-man fronts in 2016. Even more so than what we saw in 2015.
With Muhammad Wilkerson now firmly entrenched for the next five seasons, he might make the 4-3 the norm, not the rarity. He might be forced to to ensure his best players are on the field.