Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher will utilize Landon Collins' versatility in the new defensive schemes:
When James Bettcher talks shop with players and coaches from the opposite side of the ball, they tell him that the No. 1 thing that gives them problems is a player with versatility.
James, meet Landon Collins.
Landon, meet your new defensive coordinator.
Playing high, down in the box, covering tight ends or blitzing off the edge – the two-time Pro Bowl safety can do it all. And he will be asked to do it all. Bettcher, whose Cardinals defense ranked fifth, second and sixth in his three seasons as coordinator, thrived with like-minded strong safeties in Arizona, including Tyvon Branch and Tony Jefferson.
"That's what I see with Landon, a guy who is very versatile in what he can do," Bettcher said Wednesday at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. "You might see a snap where he's down covering a tight end in the box, you might see a snap where he's in the half field playing deep or in the middle of the field playing deep or you might see snaps where he's blitzing off the edge.
"I think that's the versatility a guy like him lends and that's something that as you look and study defenses across the league and you talk to offensive guys of what gives them trouble, it's players that have that versatility -- that one snap they're down in the box and the next snap they're playing high. That kind of versatility gives offenses trouble and I'm excited to have a chance to work with him."
Players report on Monday for the start of the team's voluntary nine-week offseason program. The first phase is limited to strength and conditioning as they build up to organized tem activities (OTAs) over the final four weeks. During that time, coaches will get to know the players, and vice versa.
Until they "don't just play some basketball on grass in the offseason program" and start hitting in the summer at training camp, there will be a lot of class time. Collins walks into a defensive backs room now led by Lou Anarumo and assistant Deshea Townsend.
Part of their homework this spring will be on learning about the unnecessary roughness rule change passed last week by the owners at the annual meeting in Orlando. It is now a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. The penalty is a loss of 15 yards, and if the foul is by the defense, it is also an automatic first down. Now for the big part – the player may also be disqualified.
"We've got the challenges of the new rules these days and how that's going to come into play," said Anarumo, who was defensive backs coach for the Dolphins for the previous six seasons. "But those guys all have to be physical players and get guys on the ground, especially at the safety position. Everybody that we look for that way will have to be able to do those things."
Collins, who leads all NFL defensive backs in tackles since he came into the league in 2015, will also be learning from an assistant defensive backs coach with 191 games of playing experience on his resume – and a fellow Alabama product to boot. Townsend, a cornerback, played 12 of his 13 seasons for the Steelers from 1998-2009, helping them win two Super Bowls.
"I think it just gives them another side of perspective of what it takes to be a pro," Townsend said of his experience as a player. "That's one thing that I always share with the guys, is what it took for me to make it this long. But also, give them some insight on what is going to happen to them on the field. If I can help you from making the pitfall or the mistake that I made, that's my job. And I think being a player, it gives me a little insight to help them."
Townsend added: "The one thing I know from the groups that I've played in, the good defenses that I've been on, the good units that you see in the NFL, it's only done one way. It's done right. If it's not right, it's wrong and that has to be the message we have to have in the building."