Can DEs Make Transition to 3-4 OLBs in Philadelphia Eagles Defense?

By Ryan Wenzell
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest question marks about the Philadelphia Eagles‘ transition to a 3-4 defense would be the play of the outside linebackers. Connor Barwin has experience in the 3-4 defense coming over from the Houston Texans scheme run by defensive guru Wade Phillips. Other than that, each player on the roster is mired with inexperience as they are all transitioning from playing as a 4-3 defensive end with their hand in the dirt to a stand-up rush linebacker.

Veteran Trent Cole and fourth-year player Brandon Graham have to get used to dropping back in coverage and showing fluidity out in space on occasion against opposing tight ends some times, which is frankly neither of their strong suits. Graham’s biggest strength is strictly rushing the passer. He has a great bull rush and shows great leverage and he was easily the Eagles most dynamic threat off the edge down the stretch last season.

It is new defensive coordinator Billy Davis‘ job to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of each of these players on defense. Dropping Cole and Graham into coverage with any sort of regularity would be foolish on his part. It is in his and the defense’s best interest to let Cole and Graham do what they do best, getting after the quarterback.

Coverage responsibilities should fall mostly on the shoulders of the 3-4 veteran Barwin. He has proven to be an effective cover linebacker during his time in Houston as he has a great feel for coverage and the necessary speed and athletic abilities to stay with big, fast tight ends down the field.

Cole and Graham’s transition to the 3-4 depends largely on what they are asked to do. If they are asked to drop back in coverage 10-15 times a game, it could be a rocky transition to the 3-4 for both of these players. However, if their primary responsibility is to get to the quarterback, they could flourish in this scheme.

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