Can the St. Louis Rams Run Rob Ryan’s 3-4 Defense?
With the news of the St. Louis Rams hiring former Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Rob Ryan to run their defense a few things came to mind. First, I felt like from a talent standpoint Ryan is a very good coach who produces quality defenses. Ryan’s defenses get sacks and force turnovers which is so key to success in the NFL. But along those same lines, Ryan runs a 3-4 base defense and so my next thought turned to the current Rams roster and how much like how the Indianapolis Colts had to make the switch on the fly this year, the Rams will also be pushing players into spots for the 2013 season they may not be accustomed to. Here’s a look at what the new starting lineup may look like
Defensive line-At defensive end the Rams seem to be in a good position as defensive linemen Chris Long and Kednall Langford appear to be very close to ready to go as 3-4 defensive ends. Both are high motor, strong guys who can hold the point of attack and get into the backfield. At nose tackle it’s a bit of a different story. But the Rams do have a young man on their roster named Jermelle Cudjo who at 6-3 and 315lbs has the proper build and center of gravity to anchor at the nose tackle spot. The tough fit is going to be last year’s first round pick defensive tackle Michael Brockers. He’s a pure 3 technique tackle but he’s really big at 6-6 and 335lbs. He’s too tall to play inside at nose tackle, but if he can trim down a little, could probably move outside as a 5 technique end. Regardless, I think the Rams have the pieces to work with that this won’t be a high priority either in free agency or the draft. But don’t be shocked if Ryan doesn’t find himself a true nose tackle later on in the draft.
Linebackers-The heart of any 3-4 defense are the linebackers. These 4 players must be able to be called upon to rush the quarterback or drop into coverage at various times and be adept at both. Most offensive plays will be funneled to them and they will have an increased responsibility in the defensive scheme. Here I think things are pretty solid with one exception. On the outside defensive end Robert Quinn has the look of a player who can move from end to outside linebacker pretty easily. He’s explosive and athletic and could really be served by being able to play standing up where he can roam a little more. On the other side the player I can envision is linebacker Rocky McIntosh. He’s quick off the snap, looks to be strong enough to hold the point of attack and should be able to fill the spot opposite Quinn at least for the time being.
On the inside the obvious player is that is going to be there is James Laurinaitis. I can see Ryan really making great use of his athleticism and aggressive nature. Next to him though could be a bit of a mystery. Jo-Lonn Dunbar is too small to slide inside and have to deal with offensive linemen who will have a free release and veteran Mario Haggan might be too big and not athletic enough to rush and cover. The inside linebacker position could be a spot they address in either free agency or the draft and don’t rule out a high end pass rush outside linebacker with one of their 2 1st round picks to pair up with Quinn.
Secondary-In the secondary the news is a little better. The job of the cornerbacks in a 3-4 is to stay aggressive and while Janoris Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan aren’t true press corners they are what I would call press mirror corners who could be the type of coverage players Ryan can use. As for the safetys, yes the Rams could stand to add another player, but if I were them, I’d add a veteran safety with experience in the 3-4 rather than draft one. One nice thing about the 3-4 contrary to popular belief is that if the front 7 does their job, having elite personnel in the back 4 isn’t a requirement. Just look at the Pittsburgh Steelers over the years. A great pass rush and run stuffers in the middle can make the job of the back end much easier.
All in all I don’t think the cupboards are bare at all in St. Louis. They may need to add 2 or 3 players, primarily for depth but for the most part this is a roster that a good defensive coach like Ryan should be able to work with and have them playing well right out of the gate.