London Fletcher on the 3-4 defense
I’m remiss in not posting this sooner, but Pro Bowl linebacker London Fletcher (see, there it is) spoke earlier this week about the Redskins switching to a 3-4 base defense.
He hasn’t spoken to new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett or coach Mike Shanahan yet to confirm the change, but he didn’t seem fazed by any hurdles that might accompany a change from the 4-3 scheme the Redskins have used forever.
"Our main defense was basically an ‘under’ front that was similar really to what Dallas does and what even Arizona did in the way we aligned our front," Fletcher said. "The only difference was instead of having a standup outside linebacker, a true standup outside linebacker, [defensive end] Andre Carter just had his hand on the ground. If you can imagine him just standing up, we’re pretty much Dallas and the Arizona Cardinals."
[An "under" front in a 4-3 basically involves shifting three defensive linemen toward the weak side of the offensive formation and bringing the strong-side linebacker (in the Redskins' case, Brian Orakpo) closer to the line of scrimmage over the tight end. That's an extremely basic summary.]
The main difference in the 4-3 and 3-4, however, is that there’s an additional defensive lineman in the 4-3 to keep offensive linemen from reaching the linebackers. This is how the change would most affect Fletcher.
At 5-10, 245 pounds, he’s much more effective when he can get to the ball freely without having to shed a blocker. That seems obvious for any defender, but the difference is particularly true with Fletcher. He’s among the NFL’s best at diagnosing plays and shooting gaps, and his tackling technique is generally superb. He can be overmatched, though, by big offensive linemen.
"I can play in whatever defense," he said. "I feel comfortable in a 4-3, obviously. I feel comfortable in a 3-4. Whatever they want to do."
Haslett mixed up his 4-3 and 3-4 looks while he was the St. Louis Rams’ defensive coordinator/interim head coach from 2006-08, so don’t be surprised to see both alignments going forward. But a base 3-4 is expected, and that will require some adjustments in both personnel and responsibilities. Fletcher, the Redskins’ on-feld defensive leader, at least is OK with that.