When it comes to the Rams' new staff and schemes, most of the attention has gone to the offense head coach Sean McVay will implement. But there are changes coming to the defense as well, with coordinator Wade Phillips transitioning the unit to a 3-4 base set.
While having three down linemen and four linebackers in the club's front seven will be an adjustment, McVay has said the club will remain a one-gap, aggressive, penetrating defense — which is largely what it was under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. But in a 4-3, the offense knows the four down linemen will pass rush. As Phillips has explained, the difference with his 3-4 is that from play-to-play, offenses don't know where the fourth pass rusher is coming from.
"It's a 3-4, but it's still a nose tackle, it's still a three technique, and things like that," defensive tackle Aaron Donald said Monday. "It's called a 3-4 because, I guess the guys on the side" — outside linebackers — "are standing. But like I said, it's the same for us. We're still doing what we're doing, penetrating, getting up field, and trying to make plays in the backfield."
When it comes to implementing the scheme, Donald and middle linebacker Alec Ogletree will likely be at the forefront, as last year's defensive captains. That goes especially for Ogletree as the unit's signal-caller at middle linebacker.
"I feel a great deal of responsibility," Ogletree said. "In my first year starting at middle linebacker, that's what I did — I took pride in getting ahead of the curve and trying to learn as much as I can before the meetings actually took place. I tried to do that this offseason as well, to learn a couple of things here and there before the first day we get here."
Ogletree also noted how excited he is to get familiar with the scheme, which should give him and fellow linebacker Mark Barron plenty of opportunities to make plays.
"I don't know a ton about this defense, but I've actually played a little bit in college. I guess with Gregg Williams last year, we kind of would interchange as far as 3-4 and 4-3," Ogletree said. "With this defense, it's definitely going to open up a lot of guys on the front end to have one-on-one pass rush [and have] me and the other linebacker, Mark, to be in coverage and help rush also."
Donald also played a bit of 3-4 in college his sophomore year, describing the schemes from then and now as comparable.
"It was a 3-4, but really a 4-3," Donald said. "I played a little bit of end. I moved around a lot, so I'm used to it."
The defensive tackle will still be a three-technique in the base set — a position where he's become arguably the best in the game.
"Same thing, [I'm] still going to be a three technique, and still penetrate, get up field type of guy," Donald said. "I got to come here during the offseason and go to sit down and talk with [Phillips]. I like his game plan and how he's going to use us, and the position he's going to put us in to have success, and try to make plays, and try to win games."
Could Donald move around on the line like he did in college?
"We're going to see. I'm comfortable wherever he puts me," Donald said. "Like I always say, rushing the passer – it doesn't matter if it's outside, inside, nose tackle, I can do it. I did it before, so I'm just comfortable wherever he puts me."
Either way, having the chance to play under a legendary coach like Phillips is exciting for the defense as a whole.
"He's coached a lot of big time players, and he's one of the best to do it," Donald said. "Anytime you go from one great defensive coordinator in Gregg, and then go to another one, it just makes me a better football player."