RSP Writers Q&A: Jene Bramel,

Lardarius Webb is part of a complex defense explained in simple style by the inimitable Jene Bramel. Photo by Keith Allison.

Bramel RSP Q&A

You gotta love reading the work of a writer who understands how to complement simplicity with complexity and present it in an easy to understand manner. I think Jene Bramel does this as well as anyone in the football hemisphere today. Whether its injuries, X’s and O’s, or fantasy football strategy, Bramel is a must-read.

I especially enjoyed comparing my team with his, because Bramel was a huge part of putting this project together. We installed a similar offense with offensive coordinator Tom Moore and I think we both have some strengths with our defense. However, I have to say that while I think my offense trumps Bramel’s at this point, Bramel’s defense is at a level I only hoped to attain but couldn’t execute in the time period I had. His decision to use a lot of 3-3-5 and even some 2-4-5 options is something I was developing with my second team. I hope to get back to it at some point.

As I imagined, Bramel builds a team I’d hate to face even if unproven Jake Locker is the starting quarterback. Enjoy the Q&A. I know I did.

Describe your offensive system

Bramel and I share the Tom Moore offensive philosophy: you know what we’re going to do, but you can’t beat our execution. Photo by Ringfrenzy

Offensive football doesn’t have to be exciting to be effective. The talent on our offensive depth chart is solid, but not elite. It’s designed to be a “sum greater than its parts” execution-style offense.

So, it’s going to seem contradictory when I say we’re modeling our offense on the highly productive, seemingly complicated playbook made famous by the collaboration of the always audibilizing Peyton Manning and his offensive coordinator Tom Moore. In reality, it’s a very simple offense built on execution.

Chris Brown details the core concepts of the Manning/Moore playbook extraordinarily well here.

We’ll be using a mix of zone running concepts to set up play action. In addition to the traditional elephants-on-parade outside zone schemes, we’ll also use the pin-and-pull concept to varying the blocking schemes on the edges.

And while I don’t have Peyton Manning throwing to Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne and Jeff Saturday anchoring the offensive line, I think the depth chart has the pieces to run the offense well.

Someone once described Fred Jackson’s running style as being like water – he always finds the smallest cracks, then destroys the defense from the inside out. He’s also one of the better pass protecting backs in the league and a capable receiver out of the backfield. He’ll be a great fit for this scheme.

The combination of John Sullivan, Kevin Zeitler and Eric Winston will run the pin and pull (and other) zone concepts well. Sullivan has been primarily a power blocker for Adrian Peterson recently, but the Vikings frequently ask him to pull as part of their power scheme. Zeitler projects well in pulling situations and Winston was a key member of an elite zone blocking unit in Houston for years. Add in Joel Dreessen as the pin player and this group should be able to run to the right very effectively.

Denarius Moore has the speed to beat teams deep on play action and the ability to develop into a do-everything primary wide receiver. Emmanuel Sanders is a good route runner and willing run blocker. Kyle Rudolph, T.Y. Hilton and Golden Tate all offer different ways to attack the defense. Together, this group of receivers can execute many of the concepts Brown diagrammed in his feature.

There will also be other inside and outside zone concepts and some power and iso concepts utilizing John Conner at fullback as well as the ability to run some spread offense when necessary.

Describe your defensive system

Miller fits the three descriptive words for Jene Bramel’s defense. Photo by Jeffery Beall.

Agile, mobile, hostile.

I believe you win on defense with a strong pass rush, good team speed and versatility. First and foremost, this defense was built with versatility in mind.

With our personnel, we can run variations of three base defensive fronts without substitution and multiple subpackage fronts without substitution. We can create mismatches from any defensive front to scheme pressure from all angles and varying numbers. We can run multiple coverages. We have dynamic playmakers capable of causing turnovers and changing field position. We should have an answer for almost any offensive alignment.

Our offensive system is simple. The defensive system is decidedly not.

Base defensive alignment / Attacking 4-3 fronts

This package will primarily be a mix of over and under fronts, with Robert Quinn functioning as a wide, Elephant-like rusher. We’ll be stout between the tackles with Cameron Jordan anchoring the strong side and Antonio Garay and Corey Liuget keeping Von Miller, E.J. Henderson, Bruce Carter and Da’Norris Searcy clean to make plays downhill. With Patrick Peterson, Lardarius Webb and Morgan Burnett rounding out the back seven, there’s not a weak tackler anywhere. Peterson and Webb can handle man coverage responsibilities with Burnett playing a single high role, but we’ll also have the ability to disguise and run multiple zone coverages. Henderson and Carter are ideal linebackers to stress offensive line blocking schemes with Sugar A gap concepts.

We’ll primarily use the 4-3 when we want to slow a strong rushing attack between the tackles and force plays outside where our quick outside linebackers and physical corners can make plays.

Base defensive alignment / 1-gap 3-4 front

This front will still allow us to play the run effectively with Jordan, Garay, and Liuget up front, but gives us the added ability to move Robert Quinn and Von Miller around to create pass rush mismatches more easily. Bruce Carter could bloom into a Donnie Edwards-llike inside linebacker in this front, which should highlight his all-around potential. The coverages are essentially the same here, with a higher ratio of man-under, two-deep against non-spread offensive sets

In both 4-3 and 3-4 fronts, the already elite pass rushers should benefit from the very good group of cover talents in the secondary. The defensive tackle group was also chosen with interior pass rush in mind.

Base defensive alignment / Bear 46

Against certain base offensive sets, especially those without an above-average third receiving option, questionable pass blocking tight ends or weak interior line play, we’ll morph to a 46 as a change-up front on early downs.

We’ll align Jordan, Garay and Liuget inside with Quinn at right defensive end and Miller and Carter in a two-point stance on the strong side. All six are capable pass rushers or better and should play the run extremely well inside. Henderson and Searcy will cleanup behind the front. Peterson and Webb are talented enough in man coverage to hold their ground long enough to allow the pass rush to get there.

Our subpackages are built on a similar theme.

We’ll be substituting two defensive backs – Mike Adams and Brice McCain for Liuget and Henderson. Christian Ballard will also be a frequent substitution in rotation with Garay and Jordan in long down and distance situations for added pass rush capability.

With this personnel, we will be able to run 4-2-5, 3-3-5, 2-4-5 and multiple other subpackage formations. We’ll expect to use a lot of 3-3-5 vs spread formations, with Quinn and Miller on opposite sides of the formation. Many of our formations will lend themselves to overload blitzes and fire zone concepts.

I’d love to have Dick Lebeau or Buddy Ryan or George Allen coordinate this defense, but I’m going with Dom Capers.

Where do you believe your offense is vulnerable? What specifically have you done to minimize the impact of those vulnerabilities?

Bramel freely admits that Locker is a risk, but most young quarterbacks are. Photo by Neon Tommy

Although the concepts are simple, there’s still reason for concern with Jake Locker. Accuracy and poise are both potential issues and both are necessary to extend drives in a play-action passing game like this one. A veteran coordinator like Tom Moore will be a big help for Locker and, other than John Jerry, the offensive line I’ve chosen should be an above-average pass blocking unit.

There’s also reason to worry that Denarius Moore, Emmanuel Sanders, Golden Tate and Kyle Rudolph will struggle to separate against better defenders, especially in the red zone. The play action passing game should help here, as should the mechanics of the route running combinations. Ultimately, the execution of the running game needs to be consistent and effective here.

Where do you believe your defense is vulnerable? What specifically have you done to minimize the impact of those vulnerabilities?

I really like the versatility of this defensive scheme on paper and I think it’s easy to sell. However, there is youth and relatively unproven talent everywhere. I can project Robert Quinn, Cam Jordan, Von Miller, Bruce Carter, Patrick Peterson and Da’Norris Searcy to great things. Whether they live up to my expectations and scouting report is another issue entirely. The depth behind them is an issue, too.

There’s a lot of room to scheme around disappointing play with a multiple front scheme. If the pass rush doesn’t live up to expectation, we can scheme coverage. If the coverage doesn’t live up to expectation, we can be more aggressive up front. The primary concern would be how to handle poor play from Henderson and Garay against the run. Even using eight in the box may not solve poor play from our front seven between the tackles.

Who are your stars and why did you invest so much in them?

Some lean, mean, young prospects on Bramel’s team. Photo by Crawford Orthodontics.

Von Miller ($9.5 million) and Patrick Peterson ($9.0 million) are the only two players that can be considered stars according to their relative values at their respective positions. Eric Winston, Robert Quinn, Lardarius Webb and Morgan Burnett are close but don’t fit that description. Miller is the key to a lot of what we’ll do on defense. He can play in any package from nearly anywhere in the front seven. He’s one of the rare edge rushing talents that can support the run effectively from a two point stance. I think Peterson could grow into an elite shutdown corner, but he provides physical play against the run, the ability to cause turnovers and the ability to affect field position and score on special teams.

Name some of your offensive role players who might be role players now, but you believe could develop into much more as a starter or even star in your organization.

Emmanuel Sanders could have been everything Antonio Brown was (and possibly more) for Pittsburgh last year had a foot injury not stunted his development. He has the capability of becoming this team’s true primary wide receiver in time. T.Y. Hilton could become an very good deep threat out of the slot in a three vertical concept off of play action.

Name some of your defensive role players who might be role players now, but you believe could develop into much more as a starter or even star in your organization.

Christian Ballard could grow into a dominating three-techinque tackle. Willie Young is an underrated situational edge rusher that could develop behind Robert Quinn. Da’Norris Searcy compares favorably to Kam Chancellor in many ways. And I think Bruce Carter could have a Lawrence Timmons like impact in this hybrid scheme.

Which of your starters or significant situational contributors on your roster do you believe would be on the roster bubble in 2013?

E.J. Henderson. I really like Henderson as a situational run defender between the tackles, but there are age and durability concerns and he’s not a great fit in our subpackages. I appreciate the argument that the inside linebacker isn’t a priority position in today’s NFL, but that’s a position that will need to be addressed in the future. Golden Tate could also be a candidate to turn in his playbook depending on his level of play and how quickly T.Y. Hilton develops.

What was the most difficult part of the selection process for you?

As I’ve said previously, the whole process of putting the puzzle together reminded me of my ineptitude around the house. If I make one small tweak while trying to repair a toilet, the whole house is likely to flood. At times, that’s how making a change at one position seemed to affect the entire roster in this exercise.

It was particularly difficult to accept the relative lack of depth on my offensive line. I could’ve gone with a lesser priced running back or scaled back my pass rushing budget, but I elected to err on the side of paying for a better starting unit. I think the depth across the roster is reasonable, but an injury along the offensive line will be a big issue given the type of offense I’ve chosen to run.

Based on your roster, what type of playing facility would you want as your home stadium?

This isn’t the greatest show on turf and I don’t feel my defense needs any extreme elements to make up for a deficiency on the depth chart. So let’s base our operations in Anytown, USA, where the fans will rabidly support a winner and be a more effective 12th man than any field or weather condition.

Name three risky personnel selections on offense and explain why.

Denarius Moore a risk? The potential reward is high. Photo by Wade Rackley.

Denarius Moore – I think he has the talent to fit this offense, but he’s an unproven primary receiver on a team with a quarterback that could use a trusted veteran ally in his early developmental process.

John Jerry – Lots of potential, but clearly the weak link at left guard on an offense that will need solid pass protection from the weak side.

John Sullivan – We can run outside zone concepts without pulling the center, but a strong, athletic, intelligent center is a necessity. Sullivan is all three, but may not be the above-average player we need to make this rush concept work.

Name three risky personnel selections on defense and explain why.

Lardarius Webb – He’s not risky from a talent perspective. But the extra 3-5 million it took to pair him with Patrick Peterson probably cost this roster a third pass rushing talent behind Robert Quinn and Von Miller and/or a better starting inside linebacker than E.J. Henderson and/or a better slot corner than Brice McCain.

E.J. Henderson – If he isn’t effective between the tackles defending the run, we may never get to press our expected advantages at the pass rushing and corner positions.

Brice McCain – McCain played well last year, but slot corner is arguably the 12th starting position on defense and a higher priority position than inside linebacker in many ways. I have Aaron Berry – a similar player with one decent year under his belt – acquired as well, but this team will have to defend spread offenses with pass rush and disguised coverages.

Name a few players you really wished to add but couldn’t find the room due to the restrictions of the salary cap or the fit within your team’s system.

I had Tyron Smith, Mario Williams and Jonathan Stewart and was close to finding a way to get Evan Mathis rostered before we adjusted the offensive line values and dropped the cap to $150 million.

I would’ve liked to find a way to add Jeff Saturday as the prototype center to run this offensive scheme. Another pass rusher with long term upside like Matt Shaughnessy would’ve been nice. And I would’ve loved to find a way to get Demario Davis on the roster as my developmental inside linebacker behind E.J. Henderson.

Which players on your team would you have added even if they cost more than the listed price?

I rostered skill sets and scheme fits more than specific players. I probably would’ve paid more for Von Miller, but there’s no one else on this roster that I would’ve fought for at a much higher price.

How do you think the makeup of your roster and distribution of resources illustrates where your philosophy breaks with NFL conventional wisdom?

This team is fairly conventional in makeup and philosophy. I thought about building a defensive roster meant to play a subpackage as its base defensive scheme and make a more traditional front as its “subpackage.” But this team is based on execution rather than misdirection and unconventional alignments.

Given a budget and an empty roster sheet, though, I expect that many of today’s front offices would choose to invest in an elite passing quarterback. Choosing to run my offense through Jake Locker doesn’t fit that expectation.

How much of a priority did you place on special teams, considering the restrictions of the salary cap? How would you rate your special teams unit?

Bernard Scott could also return kicks for Bramel. Photo by FujiMatt.

I put a priority on return personnel and chose my backups at many positions with special teams coverage in mind. Bernard Scott, Golden Tate, Emmanuel Sanders are all capable kick returners and Patrick Peterson is a dynamic punt returner. John Conner, Jamaal Westerman, Dom DeCicco and John Wendling are all expected to be core coverage players.

I think my coverage teams are at least league average and I expect to have a chance to impact field position on every return opportunity.

I also might have invested a larger portion of the cap in a kicker with a more accurate deep leg than Neil Rackers, but I preferred to spread my resources to other positions.

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