"Big things are expected of us and nothing big ever came of being small".
- Bill Clinton
Now, we turn the page to year 2000 and what Belichick (now the Head Coach of the Patriots) began building what they call a Hybrid defense. Belichick inherited a wreck of a team after the Pete Carroll era, and instead of installing the 3-4, he opted for the 4-3 since he didn't have the talent for his preference (the 3-4). However, he did do something interesting, as the 2 gap philosophy the 3-4 used, he applied to the 4-3. In order to accomplish this, he started to bring in some veterans from the Jets who he coached the previous year. Bobby Hamilton and Otis Smith were imported veterans to help players who needed some insight of the system that was run in New York. Carroll ran a fire/ zone concept and the personnel fit better for a 4-3 scheme.
The Defense Tackles were (DT) Bobby Hamilton, (DT) Brandon Mitchell and they lined up between the center and guards. They would 2 gap and clog the middle. Hamilton, a bit undersized, had tremendous technique. Mitchell had size and upper body strength. The combination made a solid inside.
Linebackers were (OLB) Willie McGinest, (MLB) Ted Bruschi, (MLB) Ted Johnson and (OLB) Chris Slade. Belichick would use a rotation, but one player had a skill set that would be key for years to come. Willie McGinest, a 1994 first round pick, who had never lived up to expectations while under Carroll, would begin a transformation, and would become a key contributor to the Patriot way. But first he would have to prove he could be what his potential had been flashing.
Cornerbacks were (CB) Otis Smith, (CB) Ty Law, (FS) Tebucky Jones, and (S) Lawyer Milloy - this was an above average group. Milloy and Law were Pro Bowlers, and would both become key cogs as well in the Patriot way, as Milloy and Belichick would form a tight bond especially.
in 2000, Eric Mangini was the defacto DC. Belichick had used a practice that was once used on him, when Bill Parcells moved him to DC, but did not give him the title until 2 years later. This was to deflect the pressure away from his young DC, thus giving him time to grow. Mangini was to follow that plan. However, the defense never gelled and his relationship with the players was jagged at best - you could see players yelling back at him on the sidelines. The 2000 season was a failure and changes needed to be made. One year under his belt, Coach Belichick would make some key choices.
In 2000, Belichick hired many coaches from the disbanded New York Jets after his infamous departure that left them standing at the alter. After his first years in NE, he turned to an old trusted source who had coached by his side under the Parcells coaching tree. Available in 2001 after being let go by the Browns, Romeo Crennel would come to New England and change not only the climate of the defense, but the way they would play going forward.
They identified DL as a priority in the draft by selecting Richard Seymour, a versatile Lineman who could play in the 3-4 or 4-3, and either at tackle or end. They now had two linemen who could move around, with McGinest also being able to play OLB - This was the first brick in the foundation of the hybrid defense. Grizzled veterans Brian Cox (ILB), Anthony Pleasant (DT), Roman Phifer (LB) were added as free agents to add leadership and depth. The core had been set.
Crennel simplified the concepts for the players, where Mangini (now the DB coach), couldn't. And with his ability to communicate, he could get them to understand the complex schemes Belichick wanted to run. Using McGinest in a joker type role allowed him to roam and exploit gaps he was going to rush. The key here is that McGinest could position himself down or up on the line, thus creating a link from 4-3 to 3-4. So one of a QB's reads are: who's on the edges? If McGinest is standing up he's probably in pass coverage (one may think ) and if he's down, he's rushing (again, one might think). Now, use the inverse and there's the QB's conundrum - is he coming or dropping? McGinest could do this from either side of the line, creating 4 different options. Seymour could line up at tackle or end, again creating mismatches that are favorable for the defense. Crennel also installed a larger percentage of stunts and linebacker blitzes more suitable for the the personnel they had. He also tweaked the secondary by having more man to man schemes (this was the Pre-Polian "hates everything the Patriots do era"), jamming WR's at the line to give the stunts and blitzes time to get to their mark. Crennel also used alot of zone coverages (Cover 1/2/3 /- 4 - Across) to offset man to man. The Patriots were going to play physical in your face football. They didn't want to run around you. They wanted to run through you.