While reading this interesting article from Andy Benoit at ESPN, on NFL teams and their “pillar needs”, the comments regarding the Cincinnati Bengals and their need for athletic defensive linemen caught me eye:
“A critical component of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s scheme, particularly in his aggressive third-down packages, is the zone blitz.”
“In its simplest terms, a zone blitz is essentially where a back-seven defender rushes and a defensive lineman drops back to replace him in coverage. Defenses, particularly 3-4 units, like it because it can create chaos and confusion without sacrificing bodies in coverage. The reason more 4-3 teams don’t zone blitz is it demands sensational athleticism from the defensive linemen. They must be able to explode off the ball, redirect into a backpedal, change directions laterally and move well in space. The more linemen a team has who can do this, the more diverse its zone blitz packages can be. Zimmer’s Bengals are diverse enough to use overload zone blitzes, meaning multiple linemen drop back.”
Most Bears fans who were paying attention noticed that rookie defensive lineman Shea McClellin dropped into coverage on occasion last year. It didn’t happen often because defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli was a Tampa-2 guy at heart and he really believed in staying with this basic alignment as much as possible (though to his credit he did recognize and act upon the need to mix it up on occasion).
In any case, though he was undersized for a defensive end, McClellin is very athletic. So much so that many writers still think he’s going to end up at linebacker (I don’t agree).
New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has stated that he’ll keep the base 4-3 scheme the same for the Bears with some tweeks. I’m starting to wonder if one of those tweeks is going to include the use of McClellin a lot more in coverage in zone blitz situations. It should be interesting to watch.