The recent personnel moves by the Patriots have led many to believe that Bill Belichick could be in the midst of shifting defensive philosophies. The release of defensive lineman Ty Warren, and his subsequent comments, add to that belief. “I think it looks like they’re trying to get away from the 3-4,” Warren told ESPN Boston. The addition of Albert Haynesworth, and his love of the 4-3 and dislike of the 3-4, adds to the speculation. Bill Belichick has always had the team work on multiple defensive schemes and looks in camp, but Warren believes this time it’s different. So what exactly would the Pats look like as a 4-3? As the roster is constructed right now, I tried to put together an alignment.
The Patriots frequently shift fronts and personnel within those fronts to match their opponent, so putting together a “base” front is a sort of formality when looking at the defense. However, a base does help in gauging where players fit, their strengths, and what we’re most likely to see on the field. The secondary remains the same whether the Patriots are in a 3-4 or a 4-3. Devin McCourty and Leigh Bodden start at corner with Patrick Chung and Brandon Meriweather the starting safeties. Belichick moves safeties around so much it doesn’t really fit to call one a “free safety” and the other a “strong safety.”
On the defensive line, Vince Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth are the starting defensive tackles. Talk about a scary prospect for interior offensive linemen. Both require double-teams (when Haynesworth is actually playing), so who do you double? Pick your poison. At defensive end, I have Mike Wright, who led the team in sacks last season with 5 1/2 despite missing time at the end, and Jermaine Cunningham as the starters. Cunningham played DE in college where he first caught Belichick’s eye. If the 4-3 is the Patriots’ front, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a big acquisition at defensive end.
The linebackers in this base give the Pats a good amount of flexibility. Brandon Spikes would start at MIKE, or middle linebacker, helping to blow up runs. MIKE is the position Spikes played in college for the Gators. At SAM, or strong-side linebacker, I have Jerod Mayo. Mayo could play any linebacker spot in the 4-3, but the SAM typically lines up against tight ends, and Mayo is a little sturdier than others and would be able to take on tight ends in the running game. Lastly, I have Gary Guyton as the WILL, or weak-side linebacker. Guyton is the fastest LB on the team, and as the WILL, would be responsible more for pass coverage and following backs out of the backfield.
As we know, things change, and new players can come in. But as of July 30, 2011, this is what I envision a Patriot 4-3 defense to look like.