Since he was selected at No. 14 overall in 2012, Michael Brockers has played nose tackle. In the Rams' previous 4-3 defense, he was often lined up in the A-gap — between the center and guard — and was an effective run stuffer.
Brockers began the 2017 season in a similar role, albeit in a new scheme. While he was beginning to feel settled as a 3-4 nose tackle, last week the coaching staff approached him about making a change.
On Sunday, Brockers began the game at five technique — or 3-4 defensive end. It gave the LSU product more opportunities to rush the passer and disrupt the action in the backfield. Brockers finished the 35-30 victory over Dallas with three total tackles — one for loss — with a sack, and two passes defensed.
"We talked about it last week, [that it would] better our team for me to move out to end and kind of get some work," Brockers said. "I'm not gonna lie, I was a little nervous at first [at a] new position versus a good team like Dallas. So yeah, I was a little nervous but I got out there and I felt good. I think the coaches leaned on me a lot and really preparing well worked out for me."
"I thought Michael Brockers had a great game wherever he played. He had a tremendous game," defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. "I thought he dominated the line of scrimmage in the run and the pass — made several big plays for us. He caused an interception, he batted a ball down, he got several hits on the quarterback. I thought he played really well.
Brockers admitted that at first he felt a bit apprehensive about moving outside.
"They hit you with it and you're like, it's a good opportunity but I was doing so well at nose, so you're kind of comfortable." Brockers said, adding, "But for [Phillips] to see me as a playmaker, and to open it up and give me those opportunities, I appreciate it. And I just want to show him that he didn't make the wrong decision and that I can get the job done."
"He's a really, really good player at any position he plays," Phillips said. "We just thought we were stronger — especially against the big offensive tackles that Dallas had. He played really well against those guys, so that shows you how good he can be."
Playing at nose tackle for most of his career, Brockers has only recorded 15.5 sacks since 2012. Traditionally, that hasn't been his role and it's something he was fine with. But he acknowledged there have been times when he wanted something more.
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"Inside, I wanted to show the world what I had," Brockers said. "You want to be a team player, you want to do what you have to for the team. But at the same time, sometimes you want those little accolades to get the sacks and hear your name called. So it feels good to help the team out and make those big plays."
It was a bit of an adjustment for Brockers, who said he hadn't played at defensive end like that since high school. But the position came fairly naturally to him.
"I was out there, I was a little nervous before the game, and then you get that first hit and you're like, 'OK, it's time to go. Don't worry about being wrong, being exact — just go.' So after that it came naturally," Brockers said.
Brockers' teammates took note of his performance, with middle linebacker Alec Ogletree saying he thought the defensive lineman was "tremendous" against Dallas.
"He was very active in the rush and in the run game. He played lights out," Ogletree said. "I was joking with him because I know he'd been asking to get out there in a little space. But he definitely took the opportunity and ran with it.
"He's a big guy, and to be as quick as he is and pretty athletic, it definitely helped us," Ogletree added.
As the season continues, the Rams' defensive line should be more settled with Brockers at five technique, Donald at three technique, and Smart at nose. And that should allow the group as a whole to become more productive.
"I think we'll start rolling," Brockers said. "I think everything's new — everything's new as far as a new front, new defense. But as far as right now, I know that the little things that we can correct, we'll get it done and we'll show the world what we have."