NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Shaun Phillips has seen a lot of change in his 10 years in the NFL. The linebacker believes that Tennessee's switch to a hybrid 3-4 defensive scheme helps the Titans keep up with the rest of the league.
Phillips said Tuesday only four or five teams played a 3-4 scheme when he came into the NFL. Now he says 20 or more teams use the 3-4, a defense that requires multiple dynamic pass rushers and playmakers.
"Me, personally, I like the 3-4 because I like to think I'm a smart player," Phillips said. "When you're standing up, you get to see more, so I can assess the situation, see what's coming and how they're attacking me. Another advantage to playing a 3-4 is you put another athlete on the field as opposed to four defensive linemen."
The linebacker signed a two-year deal with Tennessee after leaving the Denver Broncos. He's part of the Titans' changes under new coach Ken Whisenhunt and defensive coordinator Ray Horton for a franchise that played a 4-3 scheme since arriving from Houston in 1997.
Phillips had 10 sacks last year playing as a 4-3 end for the AFC champion Broncos, but he prefers being an outside linebacker in a 3-4, which he played during nine years with the San Diego Chargers. He also likes the 3-4 with so many offenses becoming more and more wide open and explosive in the NFL.
"Now there are shifts, motions, quick, running up to the ball," Phillips said. "When I first game into the league, it was like line up in a formation and this was what they were going to do. There was not much shifting and motioning and all that stuff. So the game has changed a lot. It's a lot faster. Teams are getting the ball off, running plays every 20 seconds, whereas before, teams wanted to chew up the clock, run the ball as much as possible and throw if they had to."
Defensive end Ropati Pitoitua re-signed with the Titans this offseason even though he now becomes an end in the 3-4 rather than the run-stopper setting the edge in the 4-3. He said the change won't be that drastic.
"We have a little help from the outside linebacker, but the alignment is pretty much the same," Pitoitua said.
Phillips said Horton's system will be simple, giving the Titans the opportunity to do their jobs.
Whisenhunt and Horton both keep calling their approach a "hybrid" 3-4. That primarily means the Titans are transitioning to a 3-4 with certain elements of the 4-3 remaining in certain packages.
"Ray's defense is pretty simple," Phillips said. "If they call your name, you're blitzing, and if they don't, you're in coverage or something. So they tell you what to do. It's up to you to learn what you're supposed to do. After that, you just go play football," Phillips said. "He's laid back, to the point, and wants you to do your job. That's all I ask from a coach. Be honest, and tell me what you expect from me and what you expect from the guys."
Some of the Titans on offense see benefits from the defensive switch with so many other teams use the 3-4.
"It'll be great work for us to block against that, and they'll still have four down in nickel packages I think, so it'll be good work for us," left tackle Michael Roos said.
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