Kevin Greene's formula for molding a 3-4 outside linebacker isn't so simple, with the job description more complicated than Einstein's Theory of Relativity.
In fact, the recently hired Green Bay Packers OLB coach could probably write a dissertation on the position he played for most of his 15 seasons in the NFL.
Greene gives a demonstration during a Packers' workout.
With a fusion of athleticism, strength, speed and size, the 46-year-old preaches pass coverage, run-stopping ability, taking on blockers and having the football wherewithal to understand the intricacies of the NFL's most in-vogue scheme.
Though any outside 'backer in a 3-4 needs to show tremendous versatility, history ultimately judges the position based on how often a player assaults opposing quarterbacks.
And no outside 'backer did it more effectively than Greene, whose 160 sacks ranks third all-time behind Reggie White and Bruce Smith – both defensive ends.
"Ever since Lawrence Taylor came in the league [in 1981], everybody had been looking for that next L.T. And when I had come into the league in 1985, my head coach, John Robinson, had cast me in that mold of Lawrence Taylor," Greene said. "I think a lot of players have done a good job living up to that. I was part of that. It was fun to be a part of the legacy of outside linebackers in the 3-4."
It's impossible to write the history of the position without mentioning the name of Greene, who led the league with 14 sacks in '94 with the Pittsburgh Steelers and again in '96 with 14½ as a member of the Carolina Panthers – both under Dom Capers, who was his defensive coordinator in Pittsburgh and his head coach in Carolina.
As much as Greene has impacted the legacy of his position on the field, his actions off it paved the way for all of his NFL brethren.
A member of the first free-agent class in 1993, Greene had walked the picket line in 1987 in his third NFL season as a member of the Los Angeles Rams. The players went on strike that year in an effort to gain better pensions, severance pay and, most of all, the right to become free agents.
"The bottom line is the players now, after a few years in the league, have the ability to shop their wares and market themselves as a marketable product, and they can basically shop their talent, and that's a good thing," Greene said. "It has really ushered in some higher salaries for the players and a better living for the players."
Almost a quarter-century later and 10 years removed from full-time status as an NFL employee, Greene looks to make even more history. Reunited with Capers, who is now the Packers' defensive coordinator, Greene will attempt to write yet another chapter in the long-standing legacy of the 3-4. Greene and Capers, employing the scheme that has made only cameo appearances among the teams of the NFC North and never in Packers history, face making the transition with a group of players who are inexperienced in an odd front.
Though the Packers were able to draft NT B.J. Raji(notes) and OLB Clay Matthews(notes), two players who should be excellent fits for the 3-4, they'll inevitably need to make use of the talent previously on the roster.
Greene is charged with coaching possibly the most scrutinized position in the scheme, inheriting a crop of players who have played in a 4-3 defense their entire careers.
Outside linebackers have become the focal point of the 3-4. Players like Shawne Merriman(notes), James Harrison(notes) and DeMarcus Ware(notes) have had success in the system and played for coaches well-regarded for their ability to coach the position.
The expectations for Greene and Capers couldn't be higher. Unlike the Kansas City Chiefs, who are expected to phase in the scheme over the course of the '09 season, the Packers expect to be fully transformed from the opening kick.
"He certainly has some credibility because of the success he had as a player," Capers said of Greene. "I just think he has a wealth of knowledge that he can share with the players, and he certainly knows what he's talking about because he's done it firsthand and I've been very impressed with the approach he's taken."
With more than 25 years of NFL coaching experience and a Rolodex of football names, Capers had the choice of a multitude of candidates to fill the vacancy on his staff. He chose Greene, who has no prior coaching experience.
Greene, who had taken summer coaching internships with five different NFL teams, worked for Capers during the summer of '06 with the Miami Dolphins.
A fiery competitor, Greene has never had his abilities challenged. Skeptics of the hire point to his egocentric nature and a prima donna attitude that he often portrayed during his playing career.
"If anybody has had any preconceived notions of who I am, I just hope they know that I really tried to play the game physically and tried to play with all the fire and drive and desire and passion I had in my heart," Greene said. "I tried to let it show. That's the way I'm going to let it flow as far as being a coach. That's the only way I know."
It doesn't seem that Capers wants him to go about coaching any differently. That may be the foundation for why he was hired. His in-your-face attitude and relentlessness were driving forces in his career.
Capers feels confident that intensity will only carry over to Greene's coaching career.
"One of the central qualities to being a successful coach is that you have to be passionate about it," Capers said. "Your players sense that passion, and you have to be a good teacher, and I think he'll be an outstanding teacher."
Although Greene's formula for success may be complex, teaching it might be the easiest part. His outside 'backers should hear it loud and clear.
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