Holmes At Home In 4-3 Defense

In a typically informative column rich on details, Eddie Johnson wrote about how Earl Holmes would fit into the Browns 4-3 defense. Holmes was the Browns middle linebacker during their 2002 play-off season. This article originally appeared in the 8/6/2002 issue of Bernie's Insiders magazine.

Earl Holmes, being the type of player he is, will have very little trouble adjusting to the 4-3 defense with the Browns after having played the 3-4 defense the past six years with the Steelers.

Here's why:

First of all, he has an advantage in that he played in a 4-3 defense in college at Florida A&M.

Secondly, it's much easier for a middle linebacker to play a 4-3 than it is to play a 3-4.

When you're in a 3-4 (three defensive linemen, two inside linebackers and two outside linebackers), you are likely to make physical contact with another player on virtually every play.

You make physical contact because you are not protected by another player. There is an offensive guard right there in front of you who you have to contend with on every play. Even if the guard pulls, he's still responsible for pulling and blocking you.

But if you're in a 4-3 defense (two defensive ends, two defensive tackles, two outside linebackers and a middle linebacker), you are always protected because you'll have a defensive tackle shooting the gap.

When you have a player in front of you shooting the gap, then the responsibilities of the offensive linemen change from having to block the inside linebackers.

The offensive linemen have what is called the "if" block. If the defensive lineman comes into the "A" gap, then they must block him a certain way. If the defensive lineman comes into the "B" gap, then the "B" gap becomes the guard's responsibility and the "A" gap becomes the center's responsibility.

There's a lot more thinking involved for an offensive lineman when the defense is running a 4-3 compared to a 3-4. At the same time, it becomes a whole lot easier for the middle linebacker.

There were times in practice when they would give me a jersey and tell me to mimic Jack Lambert. They'd say you study the film and we want you to do exactly what Lambert does.

On those days, I would make almost every tackle in practice. Lambert had four studs in front of him who always protected him and allowed him a clean hit on virtually every play.

Lambert probably never used a whirlpool in his career because he was always protected.

We ran a 3-4 defense my first eight years with the Browns. When Bud Carson came, he switched us to a 4-3 and that's when Mike Johnson took over as the starting middle linebacker.

Mike Johnson became a very good football player because of the 4-3. I've always said that if you're protected and you're a student of the game and you know how to read and jump into holes and jump into the backfield to make negative plays, then you should be able to dominate as the middle linebacker in the 4-3.

Mike Johnson did all of those things. Mike Singletary had a similar situation with the Bears in Chicago and that's what made him a great player.

And that's why I think Earl Holmes is going to have a very good season with the Browns.

He'll have studs like Gerard Warren and Courtney Brown and Orpheus Roye protecting him.

With protection like that, I don't see how he can help but have what might very well be the best season of his career.

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