Outside Linebacker Owns Diverse Skill-Set

In our eighth draft exclusive, we tell you about another outside linebacker prospect who had a formal interview with the Packers at the Scouting Combine. Unlike many of the defenders in this draft, this one has played outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.

Media draft pundits like to call the position a "rush linebacker."

But there's much, much more to playing outside linebacker in Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme than simply going after the quarterback. Take 2011, for instance. According to snap counts kept by Pro Football Focus, Matthews rushed the quarterback on 502 of his 1,028 total snaps — 48.8 percent of the time. In passing situations, Matthews dropped into coverage 145 times, giving him a rush-to-coverage ratio of 78 percent to 22 percent.

One of the most well-rounded of the outside linebackers in this draft is Virginia's Cam Johnson. The Packers had a formal interview with Johnson (6-foot-3, 268 pounds) at the Scouting Combine, Packer Report has learned.

Johnson is considered a potential top-50 prospect, especially after a strong week at the Senior Bowl. His numbers aren't overly exciting, but Matthews wasn't a statistical dynamo at USC, either. As a senior, Johnson played in 12 of 13 games and recorded team highs of four sacks and two forced fumbles and was second with 11 tackles for losses. That gave him 12.5 sacks and 30.5 tackles for losses in his three seasons in the starting lineup.

What sets Johnson apart from the other "hybrid" players who are coveted to play outside linebacker by teams running 3-4 schemes or defensive end by teams using 4-3 schemes is that Johnson has started in both.

He was recruited to play outside linebacker by former coach Al Groh, who implemented a Bill Belichick-style defense at Virginia. Johnson played sparingly as a true freshman but broke into the starting lineup as a sophomore. When Groh was fired, new coach Mike London moved Johnson to defensive end in his 4-3 attack. A two-year starter at end, 10 of his sacks came as a junior and senior.

"I think it brings another dimension of versatility to my game," Johnson said. "But I wouldn't say (I'm) ahead (of the other "hybrid" defenders), I just have a different set of skills than some people do."

Given the coverage responsibilities of a 3-4 outside linebacker, Johnson has some extra appeal. At Gonzaga High School in Washington, D.C., Johnson was a three-year starter at safety. That should give him better vision of what's going on around him than a player who has spent his entire career in a three-point stance and only has seen the eyeballs of the blocker lined up in front of him.

"It helps with just knowing the overall schemes of the defense," he said. "You kind of have an idea where the secondary's going to be and how everybody fits in the play."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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