Somebody asked me at the NFL's league meetings in March where I thought South Carolina pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney would play in a 3-4 scheme.
My answer: Wherever the hell he wants.
That's because the days of lining up in a designated front play after play in the NFL are gone, replaced by many multiple looks that change from snap to snap, which is why versatile pass rushers like Clowney are so valuable. He might be a 4-3 end to most, but he can play wherever he is asked as a pass rusher in any defense.
"The days of the New York Giants lining up in 3-4 (the Bills Parcells' Giants) all the time, playing Cover-2 and stopping everybody, you just don't see that anymore," Tennessee Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "There's so much more versatility and flexibility in defenses now. They really are multiple."
The Titans are a perfect example. New defensive coordinator Ray Horton has used both 4-3 and 3-4 looks in his career. So I asked Whisenhunt what the Titans would use this season?
"It's going to be a little bit of everything," Whisenhunt said. "He's done a little bit of both. What you do is do what's best for your personnel. Is a guy better as a 5-technique? Is he better as a 3-technique? Does he create more problems inside?"
The NFL defensive buzzword this year will be "hybrid." Seattle won a Super Bowl with a hybrid-type defense and, in a copycat league, more and more teams will be using those multiple looks. From quarter to quarter and play to play, defenses change their fronts and their looks.
"The multiplicity and complexity of the game has changed," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "Rarely from week to week offensively do you see the same formations. And now week to week defensively, you don't see the same alignments. What do you call a team with nobody with their hand on the ground, which some teams are doing? What do you call a team with defensive linemen dropping out? Everybody is multiple."
The Falcons made moves in free agency to get bigger on their defensive line, which made many speculate they were moving to a 3-4 front. The reality is they used both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts last season, and will continue to do so.
"When you start talking about 3-4, 4-3, they're very similar in principles," Smith said. "We're going to play with 11 players on defense and we're going to be very multiple. (Defensive coordinator) Mike Nolan has a background that's almost half and half of the time based out of the 3-4 and the 4-3. The game has become sub defense on 65- to 70-percent of our snaps, playing with an extra defensive back."
That means it can't be either a 3-4 or 4-3 front, unless you are talking about bringing safeties and nickel corners down in the box, which does happen. But the days of seven defensive linemen and linebackers lined up in either front are dwindling as defenses try to compensate for the spread offenses that are permeating the league.
The Houston Texans, who pick first in the draft, will be a 3-4-base team under new coach Bill O'Brien and new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. But that doesn't mean they will be in it all the time -- or even most of the time. Some have wondered how J.J. Watt would fit in if the Texans use more 4-3 looks. Answer: Easily.
"The first day of minicamp we'll line up in this 3-4 and that's what we run," O'Brien said. "After that, it goes to some three-down looks, some four-down looks, some odd looks where he'll (Watt) be moving around. It's just a very multiple defense. 70 percent of the game now is played in nickel. When we went through our snaps, I think against last year's Texans offense, I think 75 percent of the snaps were played in nickel or dime because a lot times, Houston was in 11 personnel. He's going to fit in very well with what we do."
And so would Clowney if they picked him first. Versatile defensive lineman who can rush the passer have more value than ever -- no matter where they line up.
• With so many teams using multiple looks, the value of the center position has jumped in the past four or five years as well. That's especially true for a team with a young quarterback. The centers have to be smart to make all the right line calls with all the different looks they see. That's why the Jaguars targeted Alex Mack with an offer sheet and why Cleveland matched it to keep him. Both teams will likely have young quarterbacks starting in the next year or so, which is why Mack is so valuable. Some teams, including the Jaguars, think center is now the third most important position on the offense behind quarterback and left tackle. So when you start talking about how Mack got overpaid, consider that.
• I've been saying for a long time that the nickel corner is more of a starter than the run-plugging linebacker the way the game is played now. Smith agreed, which is why the Falcons sometimes announce 12 defensive players. Some teams move the extra corner outside and move a starting corner inside in passing situations. Smith said there's a reason for that. "That position is more difficult than playing on the outside," Smith said. "The corner on the outside, you have boundary to use. The nickel or inside corner plays the whole field. Receivers have both sides to work."
• The leaking of Wonderlic scores angers many. Not me. But I don't put too much stock in them. Yes, if a player scores well, good for him. But scoring well on a test doesn't mean you will do well on the field or if you don't that you won't play well. It's like the difference between book smarts and street smarts. They are two different things. Same with testing smarts and football smarts. Johnny Manziel did well on the test with a reported 32, while Teddy Bridgewater got a 20. Big deal. Doesn't matter.
• I keep hearing all this talk that Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo might be a first-round pick. If he does go in the first round, somebody would be making a big mistake. I watched some Garoppolo tape last week and I saw a passer who has a quick release, a solid arm on medium throws, but a quarterback with a lot of questions. Two things bothered me: He hops in the pocket and he seems to pat the ball a lot before making a throw. Are those fixable? Maybe. He also seems to feel pressure when it's not there and leave a good pocket at times. He played in a quarterback-friendly offense, and did some good things, but for anybody to say he should be taken in the first round is crazy. I would take him in the third or fourth and realize I have a project to work on for a year or two.
• The injury suffered by Clemson offensive tackle Brandon Thomas during a noncontact drill in a personal workout for the Saints will have the league and the agents re-considering this move to more individual workouts. Why risk it when there is so much tape to watch on a player and there's combine and pro-day workouts? If I were an agent, I would say my client is resting on his pro-day workout. It's just not worth the risk. Thomas was considered a potential late first-round pick and now will likely not go until the fourth round. That's just stupidity. What's the reason? To see how he does in the short shuttle again?
• When a coach or quarterback guru says a player is looking great, take it for what it's worth. Nothing. They are paid by the player or their agents to work with them. What are they going to say? Remember when Bears coach Marc Trestman worked with Tim Tebow and said good things about him? Well, has Trestman, who was hired by the Bears last year, signed Tebow? So when quarterback guru Terry Shea says great things about Robert Griffin III, just remember he's almost certainly being paid to work with him. I might even say Tebow could play NFL quarterback if he paid me to say it.
• One more thing: Is any player who underwent surgery not on schedule to return? Blah. Blah. Blah.
• Let the facts come out before jumping to conclusions about what happened in Miami with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Yes, some of the talk in the police report -- including the bong talk -- are disturbing if true, but let's wait on casting Kaepernick in some back light. There were no charges filed. We rush to judgment way too much now in the media.
• As for 49ers pass rusher Aldon Smith, he clearly has issues if what is alleged by security officers at LAX is true. Smith allegedly was belligerent with security personnel and then allegedly said he had a bomb. That led to his being taken away in handcuffs. How stupid can one get? This is a player who has two DUI arrests, one last season that led to his taking a leave of absence from the team to go to rehab. He has some other off-field issues as well. Can the 49ers count on him? He's a great player, but you have to be on the field to make plays.
• I guess 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh might not be so quick to make cracks about other team's off-field issues anymore. What goes around comes around?
• Don't believe any pre-draft chatter you hear supposedly coming from teams. They lie. A lot.