Making the transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense is about the same as changing your head coach mid-season. Everything is tossed up in the air and the process of building chemistry with the scheme and players is completely scrapped. For the New York Giants, they experienced both.
After Ben McAdoo was fired and Steve Spagnuolo was made interim head coach, the hunt began in regard to the overhaul of the coaching staff and front office. The Giants brought on GM Dave Gettleman and HC Pat Shurmur, who gave former Arizona defensive coordinator James Bettcher an opportunity in one of the league’s biggest market-places.
If Bettcher manages to succeed, it’s expected that he will be offered a head coaching position in 2019, but for now, he’s bringing over a completely new system and scheme to his new club. With Bettcher comes the 3-4 defense, a linebacker heavy defense that relies on making an initial push up front so that the linebackers can exploit gaps and put pressure on the opposing quarterback.
Now, one of the biggest issues with this transition is the process of helping the players learn their positioning and developing a new tool-box. The easiest and most efficient method of approaching this issue is adding players that are familiar with the system – the Giants did just that.
They brought on Josh Mauro and Kareem Martin from the Cardinals, where Bettcher was previously the DC. This provided the Giants with some existing knowledge and a way to help the players transition more smoothly.
At 6-foot-6, 272-pounds, Martin brings a huge body to the outside linebacker position, which is a specific position designed for the 3-4 defense. Martin will help the existing players – Olivier Vernon, Avery Moss, and Romeo Okwara, develop a new skill-set that allows them to succeed as linebackers rather than defensive ends.
According to Martin:
“It’s been really helpful, especially in the transition. Coming from the West Coast to East, it can be really tough. Especially trading teams, not really knowing anyone. But having Coach Betch here and having this defense, it takes a lot of pressure off myself, to having to learn people and learning a defense. So, I think it’s been really helpful for myself and I think it’ll be beneficial for the defense, me being a guy that they can lean on when they have questions about the defense or any of the schemes, I’m comfortable with answering any questions.”
Of course, changing coasts is a significant move for any player, and for Martin, it happened to be a blessing since Bettcher was making the move as well. His support system will remain in place and he will be joining a team that has made significant developmental strides from a roster standpoint.
What should we expect to see?
The 3-4 defense is fundamentally structured to rely on attacking the line of scrimmage and keeping the quarterback on his heels. Unpredictability will be the primary factor to look out for this season, as the Giants have several top-tier linebackers and star safety Landon Collins to shoot the gap and expose offensive line faults.
“Training camp will definitely be fun because the guys in this defense will be able to go full speed and see that oh wow this will really open up, but right now you can go in the gap but you can’t engage.”
With training camp coming up in a few weeks, the defense will finally be able to witness the scheme in live-action. They have been working on the positioning and technical aspects of it, but really going through the motions and actively participating in it will be the essential point to help them fully understand the system.
While Martin has only garnered 51 tackles, 4.5 sacks and one interception in four seasons, he will have the opportunity to reach his potential with the Giants. Despite his totals, his primary purpose was to being a familiarity with the system in which Bettcher trusts.