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H-back and rushbacker: what they mean for EMU

August 30, 2011

On offense, the depth chart lists an H-back, which is not among the most common positions. Without going too deep into the history of the position (the H-back was originally developed by Joe Gibbs in the 1980s in an attempt to neutralize Lawrence Taylor), let’s observe that it’s basically a second tight end, often put in motion in the backfield, who will usually catch passes or lead block. For more details on the history of the position, and charts showing the modern role, check out this post on Battle Red Blog (Houston Texans).

On defense, “rushbacker”, also called “rush linebacker”, signifies a 3-4 defense. In May, Vic Ketchman, editor of Packers.com, explained the four linebacker positions in a 3-4 defense.

Three of the four linebacker positions in a 3-4 require skills that are interchangeable with the three linebacker positions in a 4-3. One of the two outside backers is similar to the strong side linebacker in a 4-3; he drops into coverage, usually covering the tight end. The strong side inside linebacker in a 3-4 is, for all intents and purposes, the same as the middle linebacker in a 4-3, and the weak side inside linebacker in a 3-4 is the same as the weak side linebacker in a 4-3; they both have to take on blocks, shed, scrape, etc. It’s that one position in the 3-4, the rush-backer position, that’s different. The rush-backer, which is to say the position Kevin Greene played and helped define, is largely a forward-only player. He’s a defensive end in a two-point stance. My understanding is that Clay Matthews is largely that rush-backer for the Packers, but he has the mobility to drop into coverage, too, so Dom Capers isn’t restricted in how he uses Matthews. LaMarr Woodley drops a little but he’s pretty much a true rush-backer and the skill set required for that role is the speed and power necessary to beat the tackle off the edge and affect the quarterback.

So, by listing a rushbacker on the depth chart, Ron English has just announced to the world that EMU will be running a 3-4 as the base defensive package.

A large part of the success or failure of a 3-4 defense falls on the nose tackle, who must defend the A gaps (between the center and the guards). Ron English clearly has a lot of faith in Brandon Slater and Jabar Westerman, who combined for 20 starts last year. I wonder now if English has wanted to shift to a 3-4 for a few years, but not felt that he’s had the personnel to make it happen; Lavon McCoy (remember him?) didn’t work out but if he’d dropped a few pounds he would have had an ideal 3-4 nose tackle body.

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