Teams look for an edge with versatile pass rushers

The NFL is a passing league. Naturally, that means a top passer is the highest personnel priority. Not too far behind on the wish list, however, is an elite, consistently disruptive pass rusher.

An elite defensive end is a hot commodity in today's NFL landscape. Just ask new Detroit Lion Kyle Vanden Bosch.
An elite defensive end is a hot commodity in today’s NFL landscape. Just ask new Detroit Lion Kyle Vanden Bosch.

 
So it’s no surprise that Julius Peppers was the most hotly pursued — and now most well-paid — free agent on the market, and that sack artists Kyle Vanden Bosch and Aaron Kampman quickly found new homes on the market.
 
It’s also the reason the Vikings’ Ray Edwards, 25, who had 8 1/2 sacks opposite Jared Allen last season, continues to draw outside interest — even as a restricted free agent.
 
Because of their skill at reaching the QB, aging stars such as Joey Porter and Jason Taylor remain in the free-agent picture as intriguing commodities.
 
With the 3-4 front rapidly becoming as common as the 4-3 around the league, there is room for every type of pass rusher — from a bulky end who can stop the run to an undersized outside linebacker who is quick enough to hold up well in coverage.
 
That has made it more difficult to target — and then acquire or draft — specialized players. Instead, teams are more inclined to tailor the player to suit their needs.
 
"When several teams are looking at a top prospect at defensive end now, they’re also thinking about how he converts to an outside linebacker," an AFC college personnel evaluator said. "It’s very similar in finding tackles to move to end."
 
As for established league veterans who have been entrenched at end for several years, it’s difficult to change their habits — even if they seem to have the required athleticism to play linebacker.
 
Before the free-agent market opened, there was concern about how Peppers might fit in a 3-4 scheme such as New England’s, which would have required him to do much more than fly off the edge. By signing with Chicago, however, he stays in a 4-3 similar to the scheme he played in with the Panthers.
 
When Kampman was introduced as the newest Jaguar last week, he told reporters that when Green Bay switched to a 3-4 last season, the most difficult part about his transition to outside linebacker was getting down all the little things. That included having to study backs and receivers on top of offensive tackles and adjusting to taking new angles as a pass rusher.
 
 
Although most experienced ends who perform well in a position switch are those who become pass-rush specialists, there also are some athletes who are misfits as 4-3 ends.
 
Calvin Pace successfully made the transition from end to 3-4 outside linebacker with Arizona in 2007, and it has led to him being a key pass rusher with the Jets the past two years. For him, switching positions was less of a challenge, having played in more versatile roles before reaching the league.
 
"You’ve got to look at a player’s history, and what’s he done, whether he’s played with his hand in the dirt all the time," Pace said of identifying an end capable of the transition. "It’s not necessarily a difficult move to make athletically, but it’s about getting used to the verbiage and coverage responsibilities you now have."
 
The best scouts, coaches and front-office men have an eye for what type of pass rusher will be an ideal performer in a particular scheme. It’s much easier in that sense to groom a player who’s new to the league than teaching old ends new tricks.
 
"It can be a hit-or-miss situation," Pace said. "But you can find the right player if you do your homework."
 
This story appears in March 17’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only daily digital sports newspaper, sign up today.
 
Vinnie Iyer is a staff writer for Sporting News. Email him at viyer@sportingnews.com.
The NFL is a passing league. Naturally, that means a top passer is the highest personnel priority. Not too far behind on the wish list, however, is an elite, consistently disruptive pass rusher.

An elite defensive end is a hot commodity in today's NFL landscape. Just ask new Detroit Lion Kyle Vanden Bosch.
An elite defensive end is a hot commodity in today’s NFL landscape. Just ask new Detroit Lion Kyle Vanden Bosch.

 
So it’s no surprise that Julius Peppers was the most hotly pursued — and now most well-paid — free agent on the market, and that sack artists Kyle Vanden Bosch and Aaron Kampman quickly found new homes on the market.
 
It’s also the reason the Vikings’ Ray Edwards, 25, who had 8 1/2 sacks opposite Jared Allen last season, continues to draw outside interest — even as a restricted free agent.
 
Because of their skill at reaching the QB, aging stars such as Joey Porter and Jason Taylor remain in the free-agent picture as intriguing commodities.
 
With the 3-4 front rapidly becoming as common as the 4-3 around the league, there is room for every type of pass rusher — from a bulky end who can stop the run to an undersized outside linebacker who is quick enough to hold up well in coverage.
 
That has made it more difficult to target — and then acquire or draft — specialized players. Instead, teams are more inclined to tailor the player to suit their needs.
 
"When several teams are looking at a top prospect at defensive end now, they’re also thinking about how he converts to an outside linebacker," an AFC college personnel evaluator said. "It’s very similar in finding tackles to move to end."
 
As for established league veterans who have been entrenched at end for several years, it’s difficult to change their habits — even if they seem to have the required athleticism to play linebacker.
 
Before the free-agent market opened, there was concern about how Peppers might fit in a 3-4 scheme such as New England’s, which would have required him to do much more than fly off the edge. By signing with Chicago, however, he stays in a 4-3 similar to the scheme he played in with the Panthers.
 
When Kampman was introduced as the newest Jaguar last week, he told reporters that when Green Bay switched to a 3-4 last season, the most difficult part about his transition to outside linebacker was getting down all the little things. That included having to study backs and receivers on top of offensive tackles and adjusting to taking new angles as a pass rusher.
 
 
Although most experienced ends who perform well in a position switch are those who become pass-rush specialists, there also are some athletes who are misfits as 4-3 ends.
 
Calvin Pace successfully made the transition from end to 3-4 outside linebacker with Arizona in 2007, and it has led to him being a key pass rusher with the Jets the past two years. For him, switching positions was less of a challenge, having played in more versatile roles before reaching the league.
 
"You’ve got to look at a player’s history, and what’s he done, whether he’s played with his hand in the dirt all the time," Pace said of identifying an end capable of the transition. "It’s not necessarily a difficult move to make athletically, but it’s about getting used to the verbiage and coverage responsibilities you now have."
 
The best scouts, coaches and front-office men have an eye for what type of pass rusher will be an ideal performer in a particular scheme. It’s much easier in that sense to groom a player who’s new to the league than teaching old ends new tricks.
 
"It can be a hit-or-miss situation," Pace said. "But you can find the right player if you do your homework."
 
This story appears in March 17’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only daily digital sports newspaper, sign up today.
 
Vinnie Iyer is a staff writer for Sporting News. Email him at viyer@sportingnews.com.

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