DE vs. Jack/Edge vs. SAM

I am trying to figure out how these three positions fit with each other in our primary defense. For example, is our Jack/Edge (Julian Okwara) essentially playing a hybrid DE position opposite Flowers?

If so, is there still a SAM playing the second level at the same time? In this case does Collins play SAM or replace Jones at WLB?

If not, I assume that the Jack /Edge replaces the SAM so who would play DE opposite Flowers in this scenerio?

Thanks in advance and sorry if this is post ended up being confusing.


It’ll probably be just as confusing of an answer. My .02. We do have player(s) like Austin Bryant, who have practiced both with the Dline as a DE and with the LB’s as a SAM or JACK which in THIS defense is the same position. Our starter there last season was Kennard. Guys like Flowers and Romeo Okwara are true DE’s in this system, they do not play either the JACK (SAM) or WILL LB positions. Tavai, JD, Ragland are all ILB’s so let’s just take them out of the conversation. Collins right now is a complete wildcard as he can play all three LB spots in this defense. But he’s not a DE here. Prior to the draft, most thought he would replace Kennard at SAM, but I never thought so. I thought we would get a more explosive, bendy type pass rusher to play SAM, and kick Collins over to WILL as he can cover, blitz and has size against the run.

To make matters more complicated we use a blend of traditional type DE’s and hybrid 5t/3t types like Hand and the newly aquired Cornell. Much of the time, you will see us go to a 3 man front on the DL, with Hand at LDE, Shelton at NT and Flowers at RDE. But at the snap, you’ll have J.Okwara at JACK come down on the LOS next to Hand and Collins at WILL will drop down on the LOS next to Flowers. So at the snap you’ll have 5 guys tight on the LOS then at the snap at least one of the LB’s will drop off into coverage and the other will rush along with the 3 Dlinemen.

You will also see (and to one of your questions) a traditional 4 man front with two DE’s and two DT’s. A typical starting group for us right now, may be R.Okwara LDE, Williams 3t, Shelton NT, Flowers RDE. Then you will still have your WILL and JACK or SAM. Again, both of those guys will come down often on the LOS. Literally a 6 man front at the snap. From there, they can jailbreak and send everyone, drop one or both LB’s, even drop one of the interior Dlinemen into a zone, while the LB’s rush.

One of the big reasons why this staff values guys who can do different things in the front seven, is they can easily (in theory) fool the opposing offense as to what’s coming. You know Shelton isn’t, but in this system, that’s about the only position you won’t have to worry about sacking the QB. We haven’t had the right guys at the right time as a group to really see this work consistently, but we’ve gone a long way towards fixing that, and I have no doubt we’ll have another addition to this group before snap one. Likely at LDE or 3t DT. Maybe both!


Yes, I always view the SAM as the Jack. He just plays up on the ball and they usually run a 4-2 look with five DBs (nickel). Occassionally he needs to do linebacker-y things though like drop back in coverage or even move around and play off ball LB.


Actually, some of what you wrote here is how I think the Lions like to get pressure. They scheme it. People want them to get the pass rushing DTs, but how Patricia likes to get pressure is by bringing up linebackers to the LOS in the B gap to mess with the interior protections. Now the OGs can’t ignore them and have to account for them. This allows the outside guys to get one on one matchups. But its also cool how if the spacing is done correctly the QB doesn’t really have any where to go but up into the pocket where he will meet a blitzing backer, a spy backer, or the LBs who dropped back and are defending crossers can now step up to meet him. Sometimes too we like to play a sort of 8-3 or 3-3-5 where we have eight guys standing up. 8-3 is an anti-spread-offense defense, a variation of the 3-4 with lots of flexibility built in with the positional versatility, usually having a S/LB hybrid involved. Basically just trying to disguise what we are doing to make it harder on the QB.


I’m with farmerted again.
We have 3-4 Outside Linebackers type players. The two Outside Linebackers in a 3-4 are the SAM and the JACK.

The funny part of the D is that we have that 4-2 look which consists of only 1 of those OLB (the 34 SAM/JACK) and 2 ILB’s (the 34 MIKE and WILL).

Since we’re using 34 terms to describe my OLB, I tend to use them for all of the LB positions. (SAM, JACK, MIKE, WILL)

Of course, we are a “hybrid” defense and do deploy multiple looks, including some where you have 3 LB’s off the ball in a typical 4-3 SAM, MIKE, WILL alignment.


And then we have two 3-4 OLB’s and a single ILB. (SAM, JACK and MIKE. The WILL has been pulled for a Nickel-Back.)
From this look, you don’t know who’s rushing and who’s in coverage.


Thanks a lot for all this great information. Man, these hybrid defenses are complicated (which is probably a good thing).


Yes and yes. I can’t remember if it was this snap, but on this series there a couple plays where Winston literally didn’t know coming from going and was forced to get rid of the ball.

Line, I have to say this formation is absolutely the exception, not the rule. Devon Kennard in this formation is playing WILL LB, lining up on the Weak Side of the formation. Austin Bryant who practices at DE and LB (as a SAM/JACK) is in that position (S as in SAM stands for Strong side). This formation is actually impossible to say whether it’s a 3 man front or a 4 man front because it totally depends on whether you call Bryant a DE or SAM/JACK in this formation. Waaaaaaaaaay more often than not, Deven Kennard WAS the JACK LB that lined up on the STRONG side of the formation, while Christian Jones manned the WILL or (W) Weak Side of the formation.

This certainly highlights the versatility that Patricia’s scheme and personnel preferences bring. But it most certainly does not mean that a JACK and SAM LB are two different positions in this scheme. They are the SAME position. IF the above formation is a 3 man front, then the JACK LB is Austin Bryant, not Devon Kennard. If it’s a 4 man front than it’s a 2 LB formation and Bryant is the LDE or Strong Side DE. Kennard at WILL.

I’m expecting the Lions defense to stay Multiple but I think we will see more 3/4 concepts than years past. Based on Undlins background and the LBers we brought in. Not to mention who we drafted. I think the Lions defense will look slightly different this year.

That formation was more prevalent toward the end of the season.
The WILL linebacker is an off-the-ball linebacker. He’s an “outside” linebacker in a 4-3. He’s an inside linebacker in a 3-4.

Where you see Kennard is exactly where a JACK is. The JACK is the weakside on-the-ball OLB.
SAM = Strong
JACK = Weak

WILL does = Weak, but he’s an ILB in a 3-4.

So the JACK can be an LB who at times plays DE (Kennard/Bryant), or a DE who at times drops back as an LB. Isn’t it true that Julian would be our first DE first, LB second type JACK? or did Romeo do that sometimes, too? (or is that an irrelevant question) I thought R. was more of a 3/5…
Just seems like a rush first, cover second JACK COULD stir the pot more…
The more you think about the role, the more you consider why Simmons was tempting here, although I still think they would have wanted him to have more weight, and market value wise, despite old school thinking, CB is a better position to spend high on. IDK, if they’re both pro-bowlers by contract time, they’d both prob fetch about the same value

Dude, sorry but you just have this wrong. JACK absolutely does NOT = Weak. It’s the total opposite. This was an anomaly formation you posted. I just watched the GB game and Kennard played SAM/JACK the entire game from the SAM (strong or defenses LEFT) side. SAM and WILL are OLB LB positions, not ILBs at all. When you go Nickle or Dime, then sure there is no ILB (except when MP uses Tavail like he’s Isaiah Simmons). The position doesn’t follow the player. The position is the position. In this defense, we do funky stuff and I applaud that, but it doesn’t mean Christian Jones is a freaking JACK in this scheme. He is most certainly not, he’s the WILL (hopefully soon to be replaced in that role).

Exactly. What Kennard did way more often than not, week in and week out was to play the JACK or SAM LB position. His role way more often than not, was to come down on the LOS and act as the LDE essentially and from a 2 point stance. Bryant practices with both Dlineman and LBers, so when he’s lined up on the LOS you can’t really claim with authority that it’s a 3 or 4 man front. He does both so the formation essentially is both at the same time. My feeling (and that’s all it is at this point) is that Julian is too light to be a full time LDE in this system. I think he’s going to be a JACK LB in this system but will live as Kennard did, on the LOS. I think they will have him shade in a wide 9 type set in a two point stance to use his explosion to rush the passer and live with him as a bit of a liability against the run. I fully expect to see formations where Julian and Romeo literally line up shoulder to shoulder on the left side of the formation.

Please, please, please just play this:

Go to 1:40-ish and begin there.

Got a meeting to attend (the gall of my employer to F up my day lol) but I absolutely will as soon as I can. Not trying to be argumentative and if I’m wrong, I’ll certainly man up.

No issues, bro. Nobody has to be right or wrong, just getting us together with the terminology. Pesky employers anyway.

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This is partial right but not 100% correct. Keep in mind I think we will see more 3/4 concepts this year than we have in the past too (Because we finally have the players to do it) and there are no absolutes in a multiple defense. I suspect our defense will look a little different than last years. Because I suspect a 3/4 will be our base (meaning most used) instead of a 4/3 like in the past.

Jack is always an outside LBer. He can drop into coverage and rush the passer. I played this role in college along with strong safety. Jack is never the weak. Our Jack LBers are going to be mostly J. Okwara and Bryant. These players are edge guys and are interchangeable with a DE. But they can and do drop into coverage. They set the edge in run support. These guys play up on the line of scrimmage mostly.

In a 3/4 Weak (or Will) and Mike are inside LBers… These LBers are often interchangeable, Davis, Tavai and Ragland will be taking most snaps here.

Sam is an outside LBer spot. The SAM plays off ball and he needs to be good at run support and pass support. Collins will probably be our Sam in most 3/4 alignments. Collins is the one LBer who can play every position in our LBer Corp so I suspect he will move around to help confuse opponents.

With that said when we run a 4-3 We will have two base DE’s Those guys will be Flowers and R. Okwara.

Our outside LBers will then be a Sam and Will. The WILL is an outside LBer in a 4-3 as opposed to an inside LBer in a 3-4. In a 4-3 the Sam and Will are often interchangeable in a 3-4. Jones, Tavai and Collins will be used mostly as these OLBers. In this situation J. Okwara and Bryant will most likely be on the bench. Mike is the middle LBer and will be played mostly by Davis and Ragland I suspect.

Keep in mind there will be plenty of sub packages where DB’s will sub into various LBer positions. MP loves to run a lot of sub packages so there are no absolutes here.

The thing about MP’s defense is that it needs good LBers to be most effective. It needs LBers that are both role types and those that can play multiple roles. (Our LBers haven’t been all that good) It also needs 3 quality CB’s and 3 quality Safeties to effectively run the sub packages. I think this year is the first year we will have enough pieces in place to open up the playbook and be most creative.

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I’m 100% with you on all of the multiple this’s, thats’s and others’s. I’m also with you that there are no absolutes.

We’re 100% together on the two inside linebackers, including their interchangeability and you’d probably agree that their skillset travels well between 34 and 43 schemes, though we obviously would tend to favor larger guys that are capable of rotating on and off the line (as we see with Tavai).

That said, I’ll ask you also to listen to how Jerod Mayo describes the spots. (provided in an earlier post)

And for a visual aid, this is the same thing Jerod describes: (Jack is the weakside OLB, SAM is strongside. Will is the weakside ILB, Mike is the strong. TE may move but the LB’s don’t because they’re interchangeable.)

A Jack is not a weak side LBer (WILL). In a 3/4 they are not the same position.

A Jack lines up on the weak side but he’s not a WILL LBer. He’s a jack. A Jack and WILL LBer have two completely different roles in a 3/4. In a 3/4 you can and do have both a Jack and a WILL (weak side LBer) on the field at the same time.

Jerod Mayo touches on this if you listen to it. Your picture even shows this. You show both the WILL (weak) and the Jack in your diagram.

Jack does not equal WEAK (WILL) they are different positions and different players with different skill sets.

For example:

A Jack LBer is an edge guy who sometimes drops into coverage but his primary job is to set the edge and apply pressure to the QB. He lines up on the LOS but he doesn’t have a gap assignment like a DT or LBer do.

A WILL is a true LBer who reads and reacts to the play and lines up off ball. In a 3/4 the WILL and the Mike are often interchangeable both line up off shoulder of the defensive tackle. (Just like your diagram shows) Both have a coverage assignment on passing plays and gap assignments on run plays. Neither are responsible to set the edge and they do not apply pressure to the QB unless a blitz is called.

I hope this clarifies. I’m not sure how else I can explain it.