The search for a permanent, productive position for Kevin Greene, temporarily halted Monday when Coach John Robinson suggested that Greene belongs at left outside linebacker, continues again.
The Rams’ new defensive staff, which has a scheme in which it believes and does not wish to dramatically alter it in the middle of a season, agrees that Greene should and will see more time at left outside linebacker and less at the position he was originally slated to play: right defensive end.
But the staff also points out that it still considers Greene a defensive lineman, and until he proves he can cover backs and tight ends man-to-man, he will not be a full-time linebacker.
Greene, a blitzing linebacker in the Rams’ old 3-4 system, probably will play linebacker on rushing downs, where his 250-pound body can jam key blocks. But he will return to either the left end or right end on passing downs, when an outside linebacker has major pass-coverage assignments.
The Ram defense cannot be run, the coaches say, by playing a blitzing linebacker full time. That’s a 3-4 style, not theirs. Theirs will not work that way.
“Kevin is still, in my eyes, a defensive end who will be playing linebacker at times,” defensive coordinator Jeff Fisher said. “We’ll be blitzing him at times, we’ll be dropping him off in coverage at times.
“But in terms of changing the system . . . if drastic changes need to be made, those types of changes need to be made in the off-season.
“We have a system in place. We have 10 other people besides Kevin still learning the system, and it’s not fair to just drop what you’re doing and change it.
“So I think there’s a misconception there. We’re just moving Kevin around to match him up as best we can in certain situations. In run downs, he’ll play linebacker. In passing downs he will play end or rush from the linebacker position.”
Greene, who campaigned to switch back to linebacker after being held without a sack in the season’s first four games, said he thinks he eventually will be able to handle the coverage assignments.
“I’ve always had a good time dropping into coverage, although I’ve always enjoyed rushing the passer more,” Greene said.
“But I have a couple picks here and there in my career. I feel like I’m the Larry Bird of the NFL--when I drop in coverage I just look so uncoordinated out there, but I seem to get the job done.”
Greene used to occasionally drop into coverage in Fritz Shurmur’s scheme--and has two interceptions in his NFL career --but that was always back into a zone, never the one-on-one coverages that Fisher’s blitzing 4-3 style demands.
“I’ve got a lot to learn,” Greene said. “I came in a little early today and met with Ronnie Jones and went over some different coverages and everything. Apparently we were real limited on what we ran this past week against the Chargers.
“Now I feel like I’m in the fire right now. We’ve got a lot of different defenses. As a defensive lineman, I wasn’t even aware of the things that we were doing with the linebackers and the safeties. There’s just a lot to learn.”
Greene has played the past two games at left linebacker, and recorded his first sack of the season plus a safety. But the defensive coaches emphasize that the matchups--against Green Bay right tackle Tony Mandarich and against the Chargers’ power-running game offense--were favorable.
Sunday against the Raiders, with smooth tight end Ethan Horton, and against varied throwing teams such as Atlanta and Washington, the matchups with Greene as a full-time linebacker are not quite as attractive.
“The key will be if Kevin can fit our system,” Jones said. “We’re not going to change a system to fit Kevin. But Kevin knows that.
“Kevin’s time on the field will really depend on what he is able to do as far as the man-to-man type of coverage that we ask our linebackers to do. Really, how much he does (play at linebacker) depends on Jeff Fisher’s decision to play Kevin, and it depends on how he can adapt to the system we’ve brought in.”
Said Fisher: “Kevin is an outstanding athlete, a very instinctive football player, and he’s a smart football player. And he’s a team football player. And Kevin wants to play a position which will help the defense most.
“I think deep down inside though, he feels if he’s outside on the left he’s more comfortable. But if he’s got to play the right, he’ll play what we ask him to play. And we’ll continue to move him around.”
And all the blurriness about what his role really is in the Ram defense?
“The question marks the media have, I hope,” Fisher said, “are the same type of question marks opposing offensive coordinators have week in and week out: Where is Kevin Greene going to be this week?”
Raider Coach Art Shell, who is fairly knowledgeable on matters concerning the play of left tackles, says he has always been impressed by new Ram left tackle Gerald Perry.
“I liked him when he was coming out of college, and I’ve always liked him as a player,” Shell said. “He has a lot of potential. He has the potential to be an outstanding football player in this league for a lot of years.
“If he can last as long as the guy on the other side, then he’ll be all right.”
Shell was referring to right tackle Jackie Slater, who is in his 16th season.