I've been going over a bunch of notes for a piece I am working on and I've seen a lot of talk on here in regard to a potential scheme alteration, mainly to a 3-4. While it IS an option, I don't think the Giants can or should make that switch at this point in time. However if the right coach can be brought in, (I'll go into a couple guys that don't get enough talk later) the Giants have the tools in place to play a very solid hybrid scheme.
I don't want to get too complicated but the issue I had with the NY defense in 2009 was the lack of consistrncy when it came utlizing the strengths of such a talented defense. Sure there were a handful of guys that underachived, but I put most of the blame on not suiting the scheme to the strength of the players. I just want to get into the front seven and discuss what kind of scheme (again, without getting too complicated) could bring this team back to the top of the NFL defensive rankings.
If you look at the defensive line, you have 4 guys that are capable of playing the hybrid roles. Tuck-Kiwanuka-Canty-Cofield are all guys that are perfect fits for the hybrid front. Tuck and Kiwanuka are athletic enough to play in space, but also strong enough to control engagement at the point of attack. Canty and Cofield can play on the outside in a 3-4 (head up on tackle) or shift inside and control interior gaps. That is a nice place to start when it comes to building the hybrid scheme.
Now depending on what front you throw out there, you have wildcards such as Umenyiora, Sintim, and Alford. Sintim and Umenyiora are pure edge rushers, but Sintim has experience dropping back in to coverage and playing in space. Umenyiora is a mess when dropping back, so he is essentially the 3-4 OLB that constantly plays down hill or and end in the 4-3. Alford is a guy you can shoot the gaps with the 4 man front or close the outside gaps in the 3-4.
The personnel issues the Giants have if a hybrid scheme are able to be dealt with in one offseason (if the right guys are targeted). Here is what they would need:
1 - Another pure ILB.
Pierce might be done in NY (I think its time to cut him loose or severely cut his salary). The succssful hybrid schemes have the guys in the middle that can get off blocks and run well in coverage. Pierce can't do either. Sure the names like D'Qwell Jackson and Rolando McClain look nice, but those guys aren't realistic. Restricted Free Agent Antwan Barnes (BAL) is a guy that would thrive in this role, he is a younger Bart Scott that excels in the Baltimore scheme. Tons of athletcism. You can always look to the draft with guys like Sean Weatherspoon, Brandon Spikes. There will be guys available that can fill this role.
2 - Pure NT
This is the tough spot to fill. It is very difficult to find a nose tackle that can 2 gap consistently, every week. There are ways around a lack of pure edge rusher or not having quality linebackers, but a weak presence inside is tough to cover. The misconception here is that you need a 350 pound body that can control 2-3 blockers. Yes, guys like Jamal Williams and Vince Wilfork and Haloti Ngata are weapons, but that doesn't mean the Giants need to go after a huge body in there. Guys like Jay Ratliff and Darnell Dockett are just as effective playing inside because of quickness and technique. There is nobody on the Giants that can fulfill this role right now and with it being such a vital component to the scheme, it would have the be priority A for the offseason. The one free agent that I think will hit the market, won't be too expensive, and could thrive in this role would be Ryan Pickett from Green Bay. He thrived under Dom Capers this year. Eats up blocks but still plays with range in that tackle box. In a hybrid scheme he wouldn't be forced to be on the field too much (he is only good for 5-6 consecutive plays). There would need to be some depth added however via the draft, so that is where Reese and Ross would need to earn their money.
3 - In the box safety
One discouraging piece about the Giants defense as a lack of ability to tackle at the second and third levels. I love what Michael Johnson has brought to this team especially considering where he was taken in the draft, but he is an awful tackler. It is an element to the game that is so important but it appears to be losing overall quality in the NFL. In the hybrid scheme you have a safety that is constantly in or near the box (Adrian Wilson of Arizona). This is a guy that needs to tackle like a LB, but also man up on a tight end. Very hard to find this player but they're out there. This is actually a role that Aaron Rouse could do well in. I'm not a big fan of Taylor Mays but in this kind of role, he could do well right away.
If those three pieces can be added with whatever complimentary pieces via FA and the draft, the hybrid scheme can be put in place. Don't convince yourself that it is impossible to do in one offseason, as I will directly at the Denver Broncos as a prime example. They had arguably the worst defense in the NFL in 2008 but with one offseason they altered the scheme and completely overhauled the personnel. They didn't make any huge splashes, but they found guys that had the tool set, and suited the scheme to the strengths of their players. They were coached very well in 2009 and I expect them to be a top flight defense in 2010 with the evovlement of Ayers and a couple of tweaks that make personnel-wise.
Just to give you a look in to what they unit would look like with some realistic options personnel wise:
DE: Tuck - Cofield - Rookie/FA
NT: Pickett - Rookie/FA
DE: Canty - Alford
OLB: Umenyiora - Kiwanuka
ILB: Boley - Kehl
ILB: Barnes - Blackburn - Goff
OLB: Sintim - Rookie/FA
DE: Tuck - Rookie/FA
DT: Cofield - Alford
DT: Canty - Pickett - Rookie
DE: Umenyiora - Kiwanuka
SLB: Sintim - Rookie
MLB: Barnes - Goff - Blackburn
WLB: Boley - Kehl
This is a scheme that has worked well for the Cardinals. They had pieces that fit both schemes and they also made two successful/essential draft picks up front with Alan Branch and Gabe Watson. Both guys that got off to rough starts but once the scheme fit their strengths, they became important pieces.
Ron Aiken is the defensive line coach in Arizona. He is a guy that has been a vital component to the emergence of the Arizona front seven (I know, not the week to talk about their defense). He has been an important piece to the puzzle when it comes to the emergence of Dockett, Branch, Watson, and Campbell. Creative defensive mind, gets the most out of his players.
Wayne Nunnely is the defensive line coach in Denver. He is just as responsbile for that unit's turnaround as Mike Nolan is. He had outstanding success in San Diego for a decade. He has experience working with both fronts and he has evolved players into strong performers in the 3-4 coming from a 4-3.
Those two guys don't make headlines like Crennel and Pepper Johnson, but both are fits for what I am talking about. I think the hybrid scheme is a great idea in theory but it only works if you have diverse personnel filled with guys that can play multiple roles. We have that right now and using this offseason to shore up the vulnerable spots could make this a legit concept that is put in to practice.