The hiring of Rex Ryan triggered a series of events (or trades and free agent signings) that a 23-year old Buffalo Bills fan like myself had not experienced before. Playmaking skill-position players like LeSean McCoy, Percy Harvin, Charles Clay and Jerome Felton are fantastic complementary weapons to Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods. The moves should have Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman up late at night, maniacally cackling at the different concepts, plays and schemes he’ll be installing during Training Camp.
But on the other side of the ball, the re-signings of Jerry Hughes and Jarius Wynn, have been the lone roster moves made to bolster depth at reserve spots. Since David Harris re-upped with the Jets, the Bills haven’t been linked to any defensive free agents. This hints at the fact that Rex Ryan will want to bring in his *type* of player to gel within his defensive scheme. Now, the Bills have one of the most talented defensive units front-to-back in the entire league, but like ourselves, we have our own personal preferences of what we want in our daily lives.
From liking blondes or brunettes, Ford’s or Chevy’s, everyone has their own “type” that they prefer, regardless of the opinion of the common public.
In order to make an attempt at finding Rex Ryan’s ideal player at every position, I went back to 2005, when he took over as Defensive Coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens. From there, I charted the measurables (when available) of every starter on his defenses through the 2013 season, his last with the New York Jets.
While time consuming, there were definitely trends that continued to appear each year. It became evident just how highly Ryan valued these specific roles, as on multiple occasions he wound up transitioning from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 scheme for a year or two, due to not having the type of player he needed to fully execute his ideal scheme.
Rex prides himself on being an aggressive, innovative and versatile coach that will attack offenses with a variety of defensive formations- using blitzes, stunts, zone drops, etc. To throw off opposing passers. But, for the proverbial wheel to spin, Rex needs his guys.
Interior Defensive Line
In 3-4 and 4-3 Under defensive fronts, there are 2 roles filled by three players- the two “ends,” who typically align at the five-technique (over the offensive tackle) and the one “nose tackle,” who lines up over, or just outside the shoulder of the center in either the zero or one technique.
The ideal five-technique has the size and bulk of a defensive tackle, but the length of a traditional defensive end. These traits are needed, because when lining up over the tackle, the end needs to be capable of using that length, getting inside the pads of the lineman and disrupt the passer. also, they must bestrong and stout enough to set the edge, surrender no ground and force runs back inside
Let’s take a look at who’s played the five-tech defensive end role in Ryan’s defense over the course of his career.
It’s clear that Ryan values length, agility, and explosion as noted by the average height, shuttle and broad jump time. The broad jump is an undervalued metric, as it represents the explosion of an athlete. When you’re a 6’4” 306-pound man looking in the eyes of another similarly sized offensive lineman, it’s important to be the first to explode off the snap. Haloti Ngata also was moved around the defensive line, and that role fits Marcell Dareus quite nicely.
So, we know who Rex Ryan has used, but let’s look at the players that he currently has at his disposal that project as five-technique’s, and how they compare to the ones he’s used previously.
Mario Williams is the team’s best pass rusher, so to some it may seem odd to use him as an interior defensive lineman. There’s no question that Mario will be used in as many spots that Rex can come up with, but his combination of size, strength and athleticism is prototypical of what you look for at the five-technique. Look at J.J.Watt, Calais Campbell and Muhammad Wilkerson. All of them possess similar traits that have made them feared players no matter where they line up.
Due to the lack of Kyle Williams’ length, his ideal role would be in a shaded five-technique, (inside shoulder of the tackle), where his quickness and ability to split two lineman and get into the backfield would be maximized.
Stefan Charles is a really nteresting player. He flashed within his limited defensive snaps last season and he projects to all three spots on the defensive line Charles possesses the length to maintain the edge, but also has the bulk and strength to force against runs. Jarius Wynn is also intriguing, as the recently re-signed defensive lineman brings the versatility to play in either odd or even fronts.
The traditional nose tackle has fallen out of favor with many 3-4 based defenses, which is why teams are beginning to add athletes at the position, rather than finding a massive “space eater” that offers nothing in terms of pass disruption.
Throughout his coaching career, the nose tackle has been the center and anchor of Rex Ryan’s defensive schemes, and that trend will continue in Buffalo, who’s roster features arguably the best in the game, Marcell Dareus.
Below are the nose tackles that have anchored Ryan’s defenses over the years stacked up against who the Bills currently have at the position.
Rex Ryan has coached up Haloti Ngata, Sione Pouha, and most recently, Damon Harrison into top nose tackles in the NFL. The measurables of Marcell Dareus and Stefan Charles are nearly identical across the board to those that Ryan has previously worked with, so Rex will need to look no further than #99’s locker to see that his guy is with him.
Does Rex Have His “Types”?
The nose tackle position is set in stone, but there could be some toying with the five-tech defensive end. Mario Williams will be a pass rusher- moving across the formation, on the line of scrimmage, off the line of scrimmage, etc. The Bills will probably look to acquire a reserve player that can fill a rotational role.
Stay tuned for the next edition where we’ll look at the edge rushers, where Rex may either have to accept change or continue building the philosophy that got him to where he is in his career.