There certainly have been a lot of “top” lists this offseason (thanks, NFL lockout), and NFL.com analyst Pat Kirwan has created one for each position. His latest “top” list looks at interior defensive linemen, but it has a unique twist in that he actually takes football technique into account. While most lists would just look at “defensive tackles,” Kirwan breaks down the best by the technique they play. He divides the defensive linemen into four groups: 3-4 nose tackles, 4-3 nose tackles, 4-3 defensive tackles, and 3-4 defensive ends. The two groups that are relevant to the Patriots are the 3-4 nose tackles and 3-4 defensive ends.
According to Kirwan, “A 3-4 nose tackle is asked to command double teams and prevent guards and centers from getting to second-tier blocking at the linebacker level,” while 3-4 defensive ends, “work down into the ‘B’ gap to defending power running plays.” I would add to the nose tackle description that the 3-4 NT is also responsible for “A” gap, located to the left and right of the center, not just eating up offensive linemen. Also, 3-4 defensive ends usually have two gaps to defend as well, the “B” and “C”, with help from the outside linebacker on the “C” gap. The “B” gap is located between the guard and the offensive tackle on either side of the line while the “C” gap is located outside of the OT on either side of the line.
Let’s look at the Patriot who made the list and also a surprising one who got an “Honorable Mention.”
The Patriots’ Vince Wilfork made the top five 3-4 nose tackles list. The players were listed alphabetically and not in any special ranking. Here’s Kirwan’s take on Wilfork:
A mountain of a man on the inside for the Patriots who simply clogs the middle of the line. But don’t let Wilfork’s big body fool you — he can move well and usually delivers about 40 tackles and two sacks per season.
As I mentioned earlier, another Patriot made the list as an “Honorable Mention.” The newest Patriots pick-up, defensive end Marcus Stroud, was listed as an “Honorable Mention” under 3-4 defensive ends. Stroud played in the 3-4 with the Bills, and the word around the NFL was that he struggled transitioning from a 4-3 defense, so his mentioning here was a little surprising. If he truly is in the conversation among th ebest 3-4 DE’s, that’s good news for the Pats. They’ll need plenty of help in the rotation with Ty Warren returning from injury and the side opposite him really without a surefire starter. Perhaps Stroud will become that guy, at least on early downs.