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Catching up with Zimmer

Posted: 6:30 p.m.

As he prepares for his 15th NFL scouting combine and first as the club's defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer sat down with Geoff Hobson of Tuesday to discuss pass rushers and different fronts.

He'll hold off on discussing current personnel until he sees them in the spring camps. Plus, much of the tape his staff has been watching is of his own defenses as the coaches get on the same page.

GH: Can you get anything out of the combine? MZ:
There can be impressive things at the combine. I remember looking at DeMarcus Ware when I was in Dallas. You knew he was a good football player. Then he put up 27 reps on the bench press and ran well. It's just another tool.

The interviews are good in that you can visit with a guy a little bit. But they're really coached up on that now. They've probably rehearsed their interviews 20 times by now. A lot of the drills they've rehearsed quite a bit. But if you can kind of get them alone, you can get a better feel for them. I try to that when I'm there.

GH: Marvin said last week that pass rushers are the top priority. It's a tough way to start if you lose your most experienced one in Justin Smith. Do you counter with scheme or the draft or what? MZ:
You have to try and find as many pass rushers as possible. Typically they don't come late in the draft. And if you pay them in free agency you have to pay them pretty good. The best way to get them is get them early if you can. From what I can tell, Justin Smith plays real hard, a solid guy. Hopefully he'll be here.

GH: Anything you can generally say about what you see on tape? MZ:
Not really. We've watched a little bit of Bengals stuff, but we've been watching more of my tapes the last couple of weeks. Techniques and install stuff. Every so often we'll go back and watch the Bengals stuff, but not nearly enough to be able to talk about and I want to be around the players first before I talk about them.



GH: It sounds like you'll use a lot of your playbook. MZ:
One of the two, I don't know which one yet. Frontwise, we've gone back to when I was in Dallas in the 3-4 and 4-3.

GH: So you're keeping your options open for a 3-4 or 4-3. MZ:
Yeah. Coverage-wise, that's pretty stagnant regardless of what scheme you're in. We've been doing a lot of the coverage (with the coaches) ... but the way you play the coverage in certain things, it really doesn't matter what the front is. It's just who's rushing and who's dropping.

GH: You seem excited rather than anxious as you try to decide what to do. MZ:
It's exciting. I want to be around the players a little bit more than what we are. I haven't seen them at all. This part is just kind of busy work. But trying to get everybody on the same page: "This is how we're playing this, this is how we're playing that," that's been good.

GH: Will it make that much of a difference if you go 4-3 or 3-4? Will you show both? MZ:
I think if you have the ability to play both without substituting, that gives the offense a lot of problems. We tried to do that early in the year in Atlanta last year with (John) Abraham being a drop guy and an outside backer. The problem is some of the other guys have different things they have to do.

The defensive linemen were fine, it was more the inside linebackers had to do different things. We weren't able to (stick with both looks) because they weren't able to do what we wanted them to do. We worked on it all through training camp, but we just decided to play the 4-3. We were a 4-3 base, anyway. It just became more of a situational thing.

GH: I guess the Abraham here would be Robert Geathers. MZ:
I would think. A guy that can stand up and put his hand on the ground. Because they have to do that in nickel anyway. For the inside linebackers it's a little bit different whether they're in a 3-4 or a 4-3. For defensive linemen, it's just two different techniques. It's not a big deal.

GH: Size is an issue, right? MZ:
Right. Because if you have smaller linebackers it makes it really difficult to play a 3-4. They're not covered as much.

GH: I guess you would have big enough linebackers here with guys like Rashad Jeanty (245 pounds), Ahmad Brooks (260), Odell Thurman (235), Eric Henderson (255), David Pollack (255). No matter the scheme, do you have to get bigger? MZ:
I think we have some fairly good-size linebackers. The defensive line has some big-sized guys. We might need to get a little thicker inside, regardless at end or tackle. Little thicker there. At linebacker, I think the size is good.

GH: People are saying it's a 4-3 draft. MZ:
That's what they always say. But there are always guys like DeMarcus Ware. He could have played in either one. Like Joey Porter. There are always going to be undersized defensive ends. In college football there are tons of them. It's just finding one of them that can drop and is smart enough to handle the adjustments.

GH: It might not be a first-round guy. MZ:
It's a possibility it won't. You might get a Merriman or a Ware, one of those guys if you're going to go to a 3-4 because that's where most of your pressure comes from. But I haven't been looking at them quite yet. I've been looking at free agents.

GH: So you've got a ways to go to decide on what front. MZ:
Yeah, I think so. It's a good exercise for the coaches to go through. The other thing is if you get a couple of free agents, an inside player or a defensive end, you don't worry about it, you just go.

It's just getting the right guys. If you don't get the right guys, it really doesn't matter what you do. A 4-3 or 3-4, you're still putting round pegs in square holes. (To be open now) it allows you to have a few more options on Draft Day. I would think that free agency would tend to lean towards where you're going and then in the draft you go in that direction.

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