Cleveland Browns inside linebackers coach Ken Flajole has coached football for 36 years, and one of the many lessons he has learned in that time is that the 3-4 alignment gives the defense a major advantage over the opponent: the element of surprise.
“You have four men against the offensive front,” Flajole said. “In the 4-3 teams, that guy that’s on the open side or the closed side might be a defensive end with his hand in the ground. For us, it’s going to be a big outside linebacker that’s in a two-point stance.
“The spacing along the offensive front is going to remain the same, so after our players learn the defense, there’s not going to be as much transition for them mentally than they may think there’s going to be. If you talk to offensive coaches, who they identify as the fourth rusher, how you bring pressure, sometimes, it’s a little bit harder to identify because you have two outside linebackers that could be a rusher and/or a dropper. How they set their protections, it creates a little bit more workload on them.”
After implementing the basic plan for his position group, Flajole is hoping to fit the mold of what defensive coordinator Ray Horton wants in the players within his 3-4 scheme, big men that can run and little men that can hit.
“I hope that we’re the big men that can run,” Flajole said. “We’re excited about being here. This 3-4 defense, I know it’s going to be a little bit of a change for the players that have been here in the past, but I think it’s going to be something that’ll be fun to work with. Our ability to staff and put a roster together that complements the 3-4 defense will be big.”
Flajole has coached linebackers at the small and big-college level, and also in the NFL, first with the Seattle Seahawks in 2000, and later, the Carolina Panthers from 2003-08. In working with linebackers at the NFL level, Flajole knows versatility is a key for a player to be effective within a 3-4 front.
“So much of it depends on what’s the call,” Flajole said. “You have fronts; you have certain coverages that play into what they do, certain pressures that play into what they do. There’s a magnitude of a lot of different things, but the guys have to be able to run and cover because a lot of times, they’ll be isolated in space; there will be times that they’ve got to play downhill in the run game and they’ve got to take on fullbacks, pulling guards and people like that. That’s the big part of it.”
Having to take on fullbacks and pulling guards will involve a physical brand of football.
“I think that’s the calling card that any defensive coordinator or any position coach in the National Football League would like to have,” Flajole said of being physical. “When you turn the tape on, you see guys that play reckless; they play downhill; they’re physical. You know you’re going to be in a heck of a battle when you come out of the game.”