The Importance of Calvin Pace Explained by Bart Scott
While John Idzik continues to get criticized for “missing” on free agent targets that he didn’t actually miss on as much as he wasn’t willing to be the highest bidder on, many of Idzik’s smart aquistions continue to fly under the radar. Locking up for Folk was smart, but it’s a kicker so it’s hard to get too excited about, letting Austin Howard go to replace him with Breno Giacomini for less money was another smart move, but the move that seems to be getting overlooked the most was the re-signing of Calvin Pace for two-years and $5 million.
Pace’s true value and impact on this Jets defense has been overlooked and misunderstood his entire time here, this is not an uncommon thing amongst linebackers as you’re soon to read, when Pace signed a six-year $42 million contract with the Jets in 2008 misguided fans expected double-digit sacks from him every year. Fans wanted tangible numbers they could point to in the stat sheet to gauge his impact, problem is football doesn’t work like that. Stats are almost meaningless by themselves, there’s too many varibles that no one outside the team can account for and the way defenses are structured tend to help some guys pad their stats while other guys do the dirty work and free up their stat compiling teammates.
No need to take a writer’s word for it though because JetsInsider.com caught up with former Jet linebacker Bart Scott who has been staying in shape for his new gig as an anaylst for CBS by working out at TEST Parisi Football Academy in Martinsville, New Jersey. The TEST Parisi Football Academy trains NFL hopefuls as they prepare for the combine/pro day and also helps train current NFL players to stay in shape during the offseason.
Scott explained that he doesn’t think people understand just how vital Pace is to what Rex Ryan likes to do on defense, he railed against the idea of using stats to measure a player’s impact and explained, in great detail, that Pace’s responsibilities exceed the grasp of most fans.
“Yeah, they (average fans) don’t know, they don’t know. Compare him (Pace) to Adalius Thomas because that’s the position he’s playing, Terrell Suggs was the rush, he got to do what he wanted to. That’s why he could go underneath and nobody cares, people cover for him.” Scott said, “But the SAM doesn’t have that freedom because the SAM is usually responsible for getting a jam on the tight end, then rush. How are you going to get off the ball, you hitting the tight end and the tackle gets a chance to step back and he’s already waiting for you?
“They don’t understand, they don’t get it. He has very few opportunities to really rush the passer, Barnes, Coples those guys just go. (Barnes) You can tell he has no responsibility by the first two steps, he comes in like a wild man, but with Calvin it’s always read steps.”
Read steps means the linebacker has to work his way through reads and be responsible for setting the edge, taking on blockers to free up teammates, coverage on tight end/slot receiver and then after all that he can shoot for the rush. It’s very similar to the way a quarterback has to work through his reads, first target, second target, third, still not there, okay it’s check down time and for Pace most of the time his responsibility means rushing the passer is his check down.
“Right and we’re going through our read progressions, but people don’t realize that.” Scott said.
“The easiest thing to get in this game is numbers, but who are you willing to screw over to get numbers. Now Calvin could get a lot of sacks if he screws over the inside linebacker because what happens is if every time he just shoots up every time, the one time where he gets up the field and it’s a draw or pass and this guy, who is a tackle, has leverage on the inside linebacker and can seal him inside, he’s screwing over the linebacker because now he’s (the linebacker) doing that (and) he’s (the tackle) not even going to block he’s just going to come earhole the inside linebacker.” Scott said, “The fullback would seal Calvin and it would create an alley and the backside linebacker is not going to be able to get over the top because this guy’s going to block the other backer with him.
“See what happens now is Calvin does his job, David (Harris) gets over the top, now the backside guy, which was usually me, I got to beat the guard or the center. Because usually I’m the weak side, a lot of times unless it’s a weak side run where I got to go hit the fullback or guard, these guys always have the angle on me. They never really have the angle on the Mike (Harris is the Mike linebacker) because the Mike is lined up over the guard. So he doesn’t have an angle to seal me, he can come up and get me, but David can come here and go here and it’s easy. Meanwhile, I’m here and I’m going here, you always got an angle with me. I always got to come over, hit the guard, try to straighten him up and cross his face. It’s like someone trying to run this way and someone’s like ‘yeah, come one’ because he’s 300 lbs. So, of course this guy (the SAM or WILL) isn’t going to get as many tackles because this guy (the Mike) is going to get to the ball first because there’s nobody to block him.”
Which is why Scott thinks it’s so important that the Jets re-signed Pace. Scott says it’s easy to find guys who can be turned loose and just rush the passer or run straight to the ball, but finding players willing to mix it up, do the heavy-lifting/dirty work and take on multiple responsibilities knowing he’ll receive more blame and less glory than he deserves for the sake of the team are much harder to find.
“He has to drop in coverage, they’re responsible to draw blocks and set the edge. Rushing is secondary for them, that’s why they’re named SAM (linebacker) and rush (linebacker). Rush is to rush, SAM is more responsibility, be a spy on the quarterback and their job is to keep everything inside, unless they have sub down, which is basically for them to create a short edge for an outside blitzer.” Scott said, “So the fact that Calvin got 10 sacks is amazing, because when Adalius (Thomas) was having 13 (sacks) and leading the league his were from blitzing. His were from standing up and running blitzes.
“So, that position isn’t meant to get a lot of sacks unless he’s blitzing, Calvin doesn’t do a lot of blitzing. Adalius used to line up at safety and blitz, Adalius used to line up in certain positions where he had a free rush, where he could have liberty to go inside or outside. And a lot of these people know that within that system, because so many people have come from that system, they know his job is to contain so they play to that fact. That allows the tackles to sit inside because they know he’s not coming underneath, because he can’t.”
Of course it’s still Ryan’s defensive system, but Scott said the system has changed a bit because the strength of the team is the defensive line now and that gives Pace more freedom to just make plays because the defensive line is occupying so much of the offensive line’s attention.
“I think last year, because the strength was the d-line, he has more ability and more freedom to rush the passer. Where he can rush and not have any regard for contain, his job was just to get to the rusher, that’s few and far between in that position. People have to understand the system, if you think about the system Tamba Hali and Justin Houston (in Kansa City), they play more of a switch WILL position, where they allow them to blitz and the inside linebackers do a lot of the dropping and Eric Berry drops down.” Scott said, “So, within Rex’s system, the way he interprets it, he uses Calvin, that’s why it was so vital for them to sign him back. Not because of his pass rushing, but they signed him back because he’s the only one who can do the athletic things, draw two blockers and then drop for a three receiver hook or go slash in-between the slot receiver and play the outside, if he runs a press out which allows a guy coming into the box to take the in-cut.”
Scott doesn’t think the Jets need to draft a young outside linebacker to start grooming saying, “Well they don’t have to because they’re pretty much set at that spot. You got Coples, you got him (Pace) and you got Barnes coming back.”
When asked if he thinks Pace has another two years left in the tank he said, “Oh yeah, Calvin takes care of his body very well. Calvin eats cauliflower and all that, he’s like a rabbit. You’ll never see Calvin eating anything bad so, two years, the thing about that job is at worst all he has to do is set the edge and stay outside and when his guy blocks down, hit the pulling guard. Those types of jobs you can do forever, because they’ll use Barnes and the other guys to do the athletic stuff because no matter what, no matter how old he gets, he can always be athletic for that position. It’s not like he’s Demarcus Ware trying to drop down in space or something like that so, it’s not that hard of an adjustment because Calvin’s actually a skinny guy. Even though he’s like 250-255, he’s skinny. His weight is high, but that’s because he’s tall. So he’ll always be able to run, like Jason Taylor no matter how old he got he’ll always be able to run.”
We’ll have much more from the conversation with Scott in the next couple of days (going to have to draw up some diagrams to be able to really get into all the X’s and O’s of what he talked about), but as a former linebacker who was asked to do the heavy-lifting for the good of his teammates despite it not being good for his numbers he knows not only is that role extremely important and harder to find a fit for, but it’s also a role where the player’s true impact gets lost on the average fan. Pace is 33-years-old, but getting to play behind this defensive line is his fountain-of-youth so, don’t expect his play to suddenly drop off.
“But a guy like Calvin because he’s so light and limber he’ll always be able to do stuff like that.” Scott said, “Calvin could play that position forever.”