James Bettcher and Gary Emanuel discuss how the Giants defensive tackles fit in the 3-4 defense:
When Pat Shurmur announced James Bettcher as his defensive coordinator at his introductory press conference, much was made soon after about the switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 alignment, Bettcher's base defense during his three seasons in Arizona. But Bettcher isn't interested in getting too hung up on scheme.
"I know we're going to talk about scheme; we're going to talk about whether we're a 3-4 or a 4-3 or what we're going to look like on defense," Bettcher said on Wednesday. "I'll just tell you this, what it's about, it's about playing relentless. The game is about playing hard, the game is about playing physical and the game is about playing smart."
Shurmur's coordinators and assistant coaches met the media for the first time this week, and among a variety of topics, Bettcher discussed how the new scheme will (or won't) affect last year's starting defensive tackles, Damon "Snacks" Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson.
"I think if you're a three technique, a defensive tackle, and you line up over a guard and your job is to get off the ball and strike the guy in the V of the neck and press and separate and win in your gap, that's what you do if you're a 4-3 defensive tackle or a 3-4 defensive tackle," Bettcher said. "That job doesn't change and that job description won't change for our guys. (Damon) "Snacks" (Harrison) up front, a guy that can play off of blocks, can occupy space, can command double teams, can change, really the line scrimmage -- he's going to do those same kind of things in this scheme, that's not going to change for him."
Harrison was a first-team AP All Pro in the Giants' 4-3 scheme in 2016. Harrison followed up with another strong year in 2017, finishing second among all NFL defensive linemen with 76 combined tackles.
Tomlinson, the 6-foot-3, 317-pound defensive lineman, led all rookie defensive linemen last season with 50 tackles. The University of Alabama product started all 16 games next to Harrison.
Up til this point, coaches have been unable to work with players on any X's and O's. That changes Monday, when players report for the start of the team's voluntary nine-week offseason program. Phase One is limited to strength and conditioning as the team builds towards Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and Mandatory Minicamp.
Gary Emanuel, the Giants' new defensive line coach, echoed Bettcher's comments from the Quest Diagnostics Training Center about not getting too far in the weeds when talking about scheme.
"Everyone gets so confused with 3-4, 4-3," Emanuel said. "It's still playing football because when they run block, you've still got to do your feet to run. When they pass, you've got to cover the pass, whether you're rushing the quarterback or dropping into coverage."
Rushing the quarterback should be no problem for a Bettcher defense. According to Pro Football Focus, the Cardinals blitzed 37% of the time last season, the fifth-highest rate in the league. The year before, Arizona led the league with 48 quarterback sacks. During Bettcher's three years as defensive coordinator, the Cardinals ranked fifth (2015), second (2016) and sixth (2017) in yards allowed.
But getting to the quarterback isn't necessarily Harrison and Tomlinson's bread and butter. Harrison has 5.5 sacks in six NFL seasons. Tomlinson earned just one sack during his rookie campaign. That's fine with Emanuel, who wants his two interior linemen to keep doing what they do best.
"We think they both are phenomenal football players and great young men," Emanuel said. "I haven't had a chance to talk much football with them because you can't based on the rules, but they're guys we're looking forward to working with and to see where they are and then they should be able to help us out in all areas, whether it's playing three-technique or nose guard or whatever the case might be."
With Harrison, Emanuel says it doesn't matter what's asked of the run-stopper, he'll be able to deliver the goods regardless of where he's lined up.
"Snacks is one of the better players in the league, not only on the team," Emanuel said. "So we anticipate him doing a great job there and in the defensive line area, whether it's over the center, over the guard as the three-technique or playing nose guard, it really doesn't make any difference."