- Field Yates, ESPN Insider
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(Field Yates, a former Chiefs scouting assistant under general manager Scott Pioli, continues a month-long series offering insight into how teams scout for players at each position.)
POSITION: 3-4 Defensive End
OVERVIEW: Dating back to Bill Belichick’s second draft as the head coach of the Patriots, it’s clear that he has valued the 3-4 defensive end position in his construction of a winning roster. The Patriots selected Richard Seymour with the sixth overall pick in the 2001 draft, a move that was roundly criticized by some at the time. Seymour established himself as one of the most dominant defensive linemen in all of football, and many of the other players who draftniks believed were better fits for New England floundered as pros. Beyond Seymour, Belichick has stayed determined to finding quality 3-4 ends in the draft, including Ty Warren, Jarvis Green and a host of others. The position is by no means one of much notoriety on an individual statistics level, but is supremely important to building a dominant 3-4 front.
DESIRED TRAITS: The goal of a 3-4 defensive end in many schemes – including much of what the Patriots have done under Belichick – is to handle two-gap responsibilities. To accomplish this, a 3-4 defensive end must have the right build, base and technique. A 3-4 defensive end needs to have sufficient weight in his anchor so as not to be pushed back off of the line of scrimmage, as well as the length to be able to reach and engage his blocker, the strength to lock his arms out, and the instincts to read the play.
Those who are able to lock out and play with enough poise to watch the play develop, and then demonstrate the strength to shed their blocker and make a tackle are building block defensive ends within a 3-4 scheme.
As pass rusher, 3-4 ends typically do not rack up substantial sack totals. They are more often than not used to collapse the pocket in lieu of being speed/edge rushers, and coaches will stress that 3-4 defensive ends get their arms in passing lanes to add duress to a quarterback.
Although 3-4 ends are big bodies, they must be athletic enough to move laterally down the line of scrimmage to pursue plays. Additionally, they need to play with functional strength while moving down the line and not being driven off the ball. Finding that combination of traits is not always easy.
SPECIAL TEAMS ANGLE: 3-4 defensive ends will typically play on field goal block, and occasionally on the kickoff return team.
PATRIOTS TAKE: The Patriots largely moved away from three-man defensive fronts in 2011, and the roster reflects what looks like a continued reliance on four-man fronts in 2012. A handful of players, including nose tackle Vince Wilfork, would project to play in a 3-4 front as well. Ron Brace, a former second-round choice who enters a critical year in 2012, has the frame of a 3-4 defensive end, but has yet to consistently produce as a pro.
The Patriots look ready to play 4-3 and sub-defense primarily in 2012.