Had an interesting conversation with a defensive coach from another team at the combine last month. He talked about the cover-two defense and the core positions that fuel it. It was a good discussion and what he did was rank the core positions for the scheme.
The cover two has lost some of its glitter recently and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have thrown it overboard in favor of a scheme with bigger players under new defensive coordinator Jim Bates. Some of the Tampa Two's best teachers--Tony Dungy, Monte Kiffin and Herm Edwards--will not be in the NFL in 2009. The Tampa Tribune's Ira Kaufman takes a look at the trend of teams switching to a base 3-4 scheme, including the Green Bay Packers.
Three teams from the Tampa Two tree of defenses finished in the top 11 last season. Minnesota, which is a hybrid Tampa Two with the Williams Wall at defensive tackle, was sixth. The Buccaneers came in at No. 9 and Indianapolis was No. 11. The Bears, of course, stumbled to finish 21st.
Here's how the coach broke down the core positions in the defense. We'll take a look at how the Bears are at those positions.
1. Three technique tackle.
Analysis: With a productive Tommie Harris the Bears have one of the better three techniques in the league. Coach Lovie Smith said at the combine that when he and his staff finished evaluating the 2008 season, Harris performed better than he was credited for being in 2008. When Harris is going well, he's a disruptive force and makes those around him better. The Bears are counting on more from him in 2009, especially after picking up a $6.67 million roster bonus last month. Third-round pick Marcus Harrison had a solid rookie season and has the ability to produce as a backup at the position in a rotation.
2. Cover corner.
Analysis: While the coach admitted some might substitute a pass-rushing end in this spot, he said the value of a top corner cannot be overstated. Charles Tillman had a rocky 2008 season that was inhibited by injuries to both shoulders, one that required surgery. His status as a left cornerback is the primary reason why Smith refuses to entertain the idea of moving him to free safety. A healthy Tillman is a physical performer who should have a few good seasons left in him.
3. Defensive end.
Analysis: Now you know why one of the first moves Smith made when he arrived was get in the market for a pass rusher. You can debate the contributions Adewale Ogunleye has made since he arrived, but Smith wanted a pass rusher with size that he could line up over right tackles. The Bears are counting on new line coach Rod Marinelli to bring the best out of a group that includes Alex Brown and Mark Anderson.
4. Weak-side linebacker.
Analysis: If the three technique is the signature position in the defense, this is signature position 1B. It's where Derrick Brooks starred for seasons in Tampa Bay. The prototypical WLB is an undersized player with terrific range. Coming unblocked in a lot of situations, the weak-side linebacker will pile up tackles and help in coverage. Lance Briggs might be the best in the game at the spot right now.
5. Middle linebacker.
Analysis: It helps having a linebacker who can drop deep in coverage like Brian Urlacher but he would tell you the scheme has taken him away from some of the things he does best.
6. Free safety.
Analysis: This is where the Bears come up short and have come up short for some time. They still don't have a player with the range to be a threat in coverage, someone other teams will worry about as a playmaker in the secondary. Craig Steltz may man the position starting next week in minicamp but he's only keeping the seat warm. For how long is the question. Notice, the coach doesn't put near the significance on a safety as he does a cornerback.