Backers on parade

Hey Jeff,

After reading so much about how Landon Johnson is having such a great camp, Pollack and Thurman pretty much being named starters coming out of rookie camp, and of course Brian Simmons being a given as a starter I was wondering if there could be any chance of a change to a 3-4? I think its obvious that our linebacker corps are way deeper than our D-Line, so I think it would make some since to have Pollack and Simmons on the outside and Johnson and Thurman on the inside.

If you dont see that happening at all this season, do you think on passing downs we could see Landon, Brian, and Thurman at the backer spots and Pollack moved to a rush end? I think it is crucial for the Bengals to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and thus taking some pressure off our defensive backs. But, I guess for any of this to be possible they have to get Pollack into camp.

Who Dey! Todd - Marion, OH TODD:
I think that was the whole point in drafting Pollack and switching him from end to linebacker. I went back to a May interview with defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan to get this exchange:

GH: All this talk about a 3-4 or 4-3, it sounds interchangeable. CB:
When we go to that, nothing changes coverage-wise or assignment-wise. All we do is change the entry up front and do things to be creative. The overall scheme doesn't change. You build your philosophy first and our philosophy is based on a 4-3 front. But to me, to make a changeup on any given day to show a 3-4 look, as long as you stay within the parameters of the philosophy you've set, you haven't done anything to screw up the players.

If all of a sudden we were to come out and install the Pittsburgh adjustable blitz package, that ain't us. Now we're blowing their minds. But if we come out and say we're going to run a strong smack fire zone out of 4-3, now here's the way we do the same pressure out of a 3-4 look, it's the same defense. All we've done is give a different appearance up front by your alignment.

GH: So it's still a 4-3? CB:
Basically it is, but not necessarily because if where you put certain players at certain times. All we've done is replaced the end that drops with an outside backer and give them a little different look.

So, it sounds like they were looking for a guy that can help them disguise a 4-3 look from a 3-4, and that calls for a versatile pass rusher who can also drop and that's how they see Pollack.

That's why I don't think you can take the Thurman-Johnson thing in the veins. Johnson is going to play a lot, and I would imagine just as you say. On third down so they can take advantage of his speed and superb cover skills. I don't see many backs or tight ends (hello Lee Suggs) beating him in the flat.

So, yeah, I see them playing a lot of 3-4 on passing downs, but they did a lot of that last season with Kevin Hardy in Pollack's spot either rushing from a three-point stance, or dropping, or blitzing. The disguise aspect was a major reason they swarmed Ben Roethlisberger for seven sacks in the 19-14 loss at PBS.

But, as you note, how much is the scheme going to be short-circuited by Pollack's absence? He's such a key figure, and his presence in camp is made even more important by the fact he's changing positions.

I have a hunch Johnson is going to come to the rescue there, too, because he can also play Pollack's spot. But he's not big enough to pass rush from the edge, so that could cut down on their flexibility and make them more of a 4-3 until Pollack gets acclimated.

I think it's dangerous to talk about 4-3s and 3-4s. I think a lot changes from game plan to game plan. But, you're right, the strength of this defense is the speed of its linebackers.

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