NFC West: Butch Davis

Karlos Dansby's addition to the Arizona Cardinals provides insurance at inside linebacker while the team prepares to play without suspended starter Daryl Washington.

The signing, announced by the team Friday, could signal other things as well.

"Dansby is a great fill-in for Washington during the suspension," ESPN's NFL scout, Matt Williamson, said, "but this move also further implies more 4-3 with Washington at weak-side linebacker and Kevin Minter at middle linebacker."

The Cardinals have run a traditional 3-4 defense in the Pittsburgh Steelers' mold over the past two seasons. New defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is expected to trend away from that approach, but it's not yet clear to what degree.

"I usually don't like a shift in scheme," Williamson said. "Ninety percent of the time, you are creating holes and fixing what is not broken, like with Buffalo going to a 3-4 after spending all that money for Mario Williams, who really should be a 4-3 end, or with Kansas City and Glenn Dorsey a few years ago.

"But with the Cardinals, their outside linebackers in a 3-4 are a liability for them. They can make that liability go away if they play more 4-3."

Williamson worked with Bowles in Cleveland when Butch Davis was the Browns' head coach. Bowles assisted Chuck Pagano, then the Browns' secondary coach, as Cleveland ran a very straightforward 4-3 scheme. Bowles has subsequently worked in a 3-4 with the Miami Dolphins and a 4-3 with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Bowles and Dansby were together with the Dolphins when Miami ran a version of the 3-4 under then-coordinator Mike Nolan.

"Dansby is a taller, longer guy you could see lining up over the tight end," Williamson said. "He doesn't look like Minter or Jasper Brinkley or most 3-4 inside linebackers."

Dansby played strong-side linebacker during his first run with the Cardinals from 2004 through 2009. He worked at weak-side linebacker in the Dolphins' 3-4 before emerging in the strong-side "Mike" role. Dansby credited Nolan for expanding his game.

"He took my game to another level," Dansby said in 2010. "He put me in a new position that I had never played before in this defense and he really taught me the difference between the two positions and I just want to thank him for that opportunity to play the 'Mike' linebacker.

"It's totally different from the 'Will' linebacker and 'Sam' linebacker. And all I had done before was play 'Sam' linebacker. He’s a legendary coach in my book as a defensive coordinator and it was mind-blowing the difference in the two. He taught me a lot and he made me a better linebacker for that."

So, as Williamson noted, Dansby could play inside linebacker in a 3-4 if the Cardinals chose to run one. Or, more sensibly, he could play the strong side in a 4-3, with Minter in the middle and Washington on the weak side.

"You would want all three of those guys on the field on first-and-10," Williamson said.
Aaron from Augusta, Maine writes: Mr. Sando, I was curious as if you could do some research on NFL head coaches coming from big college programs, such as Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, Butch Davis, Dennis Erickson, Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer, and their first drafts draft as head coach.

Any evidence to show their new NFL teams drafting an unusually high amount of players from their former schools? Pete Carroll seems to have more control over personnel than most of these other coaches, but thought it could give Seahawks fans an idea about the amount of former Trojans heading to the Northwest. Thank you and keep up the good work.

Mike Sando: Good idea. Carroll actually downplayed USC talent the other day, suggesting during an interview with KJR950 Seattle that he was surprised so many of his former players became first-round picks. It's potentially self-serving for him to suggest he won with talent that wasn't as good as advertised, but I didn't get the feeling Carroll was eager to rush out and draft a bunch of former USC guys.

This is the sort of project I'd like to spend a little more time on, but for the sake of answering your question quickly, I singled out four of the coaches you mentioned and crunched some numbers using my draft database. Steve Spurrier, Butch Davis, Nick Saban, Dennis Erickson and Jimmy Johnson each spent relatively short periods of time with their first NFL teams. For this reason, I looked at all of their NFL drafts, not just those associated with their first seasons. I figured these coaches would have been familiar with most or all of the college players leaving their former programs during the time periods in question.

I did not consider Switzer because the Cowboys hired him several years after he left Oklahoma.

Johnson's Cowboys drafted more players from Miami -- seven -- than from any other college program. Florida was next at four, followed by Penn State and Tennessee with three apiece. Johnson could have had special insight into the Miami players after coaching the Hurricanes. It's also true that lots of teams drafted players from Miami. We'll see that as this exercise continues.

Spurrier's Redskins drafted two players from Tennessee and one apiece from 11 other schools, including the Florida program he left.

Davis' Browns drafted four players from Miami, more than from any other program, during his run as Cleveland coach. They drafted three apiece from Virginia Tech, Florida and Boston College.

Erickson, who left the Hurricanes for Seattle in 1994, drafted only one player from Miami, 1997 seventh-rounder Carlos Jones, in four seasons with the Seahawks. Seattle drafted three from Florida and two from four other schools while Erickson was head coach through the 1998 season.

Saban's Dolphins drafted one player from the LSU program he departed. They drafted two from Auburn, more than from any other program, and one apiece from 10 schools (including LSU).

Hope that helps.