If Star Lotulelei happens to be the best player available at # 5, should/could/would we switch to a 3-4 with Lotulelei at Nose? Here's how I think our current roster fits and adjusts, what do you all think?
Suh and Fairley (especially Suh) both look like they have the quickness and natural ability to play 3-4 DE. Not sure if they'd enjoy it more or less, and a big change like this would require buy-in from the key players on the defense.
On the one hand, I can see how Suh and Fairley would prefer to shoot gaps and try to attack the QB from the interior like they do now, rather than try to eat up space going head-to-head against offensive linemen as they would have to do more of as DE's in a 3-4. But, on the other hand, they're probably going to face fewer double-teams with Lotulelei playing Nose in the middle between them than they currently do as traditional 4-3 DT's, which should free them up somewhat.
IIRC, Sammie Hill played 3-4 DE in college "shutting down half the field" against lesser competition. He could spell Lotulelei at nose tackle and play backup end at either end position. If we bring Hill back, we'd probably get more bang for our buck, i.e. more snaps, out of him as he could back up three positions (DE,NT,DE) instead of just two (4-3 DT's).
We might not have that elite Von Miller presence on our roster, but not everyone does. We do have a few pieces in place with potential though.
Cliff Avril (if he re-signs), Ronnell Lewis, and Willie Young, whether based on height, weight, college experience, or all three, look like more DE/OLB "tweeners" than your traditional 270-pound 4-3 DE's. As TCLion notes, Size DOES Matter (SFW).
Avril, who played some linebacker in college, has great speed and burst flying around the edge, but he struggles to defend the run againsg big Right Tackles. His value will be less this year than it was last year, so he may get re-signed after all, especially if there are other starting-calibre guys that we're not able to bring back (e.g. Houston, Cherilus, Delmas, but I really hope we can re-sign Houston), depending on how the FA market shakes out. Playing Avril at 3-4 OLB, I think, would realy be putting him in a position to succeed. I keep thinking of Avril's interception/TD against San Diego to secure our playoff spot in 2011, and I think that kind of thing could be common for him if he has a little bit more space to play in.
Ronnell Lewis, who barely saw the field outside of special teams, is only 6'2, and looks overmatched as a DE against long-armed tackles, but as a 3-4 OLB has the strength and speed to perhaps fill that role better. He might even be a decent candidate to play ILB.
Willie Young is taller, but has more of a slight frame, and did not take a big step as a 4-3 DE last year that we had hoped for. I say give him a chance as an outside linebacker in our new 3-4.
Lawrence Jackson is bigger than these three and fits the 4-3 better, but he's also a free agent, and with our cap situation, he'd make the choice of whom not to bring back a little easier since we can't bring back everyone. I like Lo-Jack and there's no doubt he'd find a job somewhere in the NFL, but we can't keep everybody. We lose Jackson to keep Avril.
Both of our starting OLB's, Durant and Levy, are free agents. If we stay with the 4-3, we potentially have two starting LB spots to fill. If we switch to a 3-4, that leaves only one LB spot to fill (not counting the pass-rushers, which is a different role). Stephen Tulloch, I'm sure, can fill one of the ILB roles very well. Durant's a good run-stopper. Or, as Levy has played both MLB and OLB for us, he might have the versatility and aptitude to play ILB if he re-signs.
Would Schwartz and Cunningham be comfortable switching things up? Probably not, but this regime is fighting for their jobs after goign 4-12, and if Mayhew gives Schwartz a 320-lb DT from the draft, Schwartz might be forced to adjust the best he can.
Maybe Mayhew should just tell Schwartz the 3-4 is just like the wide-9, only instead of a big exploitable gap in between the outside edge-rusher and the interior DL, there's an Ndamukong Suh in between the outside edge-rusher and the interior DL.