(Note: In the week leading up to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, we'll take a look at each position at the BN Blitz Blog.)
Von Miller attacked from one side. DeMarcus Ware attacked from the other.
And Cam Newton, the league’s MVP, was under siege. Unnerved. A mess.
Right here was the blueprint for all 3-4 defenses in the NFL to follow, courtesy of Wade Phillips. The Denver Broncos’ scheme was a thing of beauty in Super Bowl 50, one rooted in simplicity and two fire-breathing edge rushers.
In 2015, the Buffalo Bills had one: Jerry Hughes. This offseason will be about finding another. And Utah State’s Kyler Fackrell is one early-round option who could help himself immensely at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. He brings experience others do not.
Said Fackrell, “I think I can be a dominant pass rusher."
The 6-foot-5, 244-pounder was a stand-up outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, finishing with 82 tackles (15 for loss), four sacks, two forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries in 2015 after missing 2014 with a torn ACL. So many NFL teams try coaching up 4-3 ends as 3-4 linebackers and it's a lost cause. The vantage point changes, they're forced to handle too much mentally and the transition fails.
There wasn't much Fackrell didn't see in college, on and off the field. While rehabbing his knee, he was also changing diapers. Fackrell became a Dad.
And Fackrell possesses torque around the corner teams covet. He's been clocked in the 4.6's.
“What I go to first is the speed rush and try to beat him around the edge," Fackrell said. "And obviously, there has to be counters to that because the guys in the NFL are very athletic and can move very well. So that can’t be all there is. So it’s working speed to power. It’s working an inside move if they’re setting too hard.
“Definitely as I learn to get stronger and improve my technique, I think I can be an every-down player but especially make an impact on third downs.”
Juggling class, football and fatherhood was difficult. The initial plan was to play out the 2014 season and declare for the draft… then he wrecked his knee in the 2014 opener. Looking back, the injury was a blessing in disguise. His wife was pregnant and sick. Fackrell was able to take care of her and then, soon, his daughter.
Yes, he played Mister Mom while taking classes and rehabilitating his knee.
Looking back, going pro through this all might've put a strain on his family.
“Who knows if I would’ve been there?” Fackrell said. “I wouldn’t have been able to spend nearly as much time if I wasn’t trying to come off that injury. So it was tough trying to come back. I’ve never had a serious injury, surgery or anything like that. It was a new experience overall. But I do think, at the end of the day, it was a blessing for our family.”
How many diapers did he change? “Quite a few, quite a few,” he chuckled. Like all Dads, he woke up in the middle of many nights to rock his daughter to sleep.
And into 2015, back on the field, he rounded into NFL form.
Said Fackrell, “Whether it was class or football, my wife did a great job of letting me be there and not have to worry about what’s going on at home and just focus on the task at hand.”
While his sack totals were only so-so — 12 in his three healthy seasons — Fackrell believes he has the “length, speed and versatility” to rush and drop at outside linebacker. He models his game after Ware, the 11-year pro with 134.5 career sacks. While Ware is tick taller, bigger, he says his body type is similar.
Take a lateral move inside against Colorado State, in which Fackrell embarrasses the left tackle.
He did meet with a Bills scout at the Senior Bowl and likely will be speaking with coaches formally at the Combine. The key to Fackrell is perfecting one or two moves.
“You just read and anticipate what he’s going to do," he said. "I think most guys — the prominent guys — have their go-to moves. Like Dwight Freeney, it’s a spin move inside. Guys might know that it’s coming but it’s another thing actually trying to deal with it. So I think you do have to hone in. You don’t want to be a jack of all trades and a master of none — especially with the pass rush. So I think you want to hone in and master a couple of moves. And then kind of just let your athleticism take over from there and do what you need to do. The biggest thing is just having a high motor, just continuing to throw moves. Never getting stuck.”
The motor of one Bills end was questioned late last season, too.
Somehow, the Bills must improve on their sad total of 21 sacks last season. Infusing the defense with a shot of hustle off the edge wouldn't hurt.
“Other than guys who just freak athletes like Von Miller, that’s where a lot of sacks come off of,” Fackrell said. “Just great coverage or the quarterback’s eyes are down or maybe you’re not winning on your first move — and it takes until your third move of continuing to fight.”
Here are five other linebackers to keep an eye on in Indianapolis...
ILB Reggie Ragland (Alabama): Any linebacker who ran Nick Saban's defense will warrant a close look. Ragland stepped in for C.J. Mosley and anchored a national champion.
OLB Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame): Tore his ACL and MCL against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, but the consensus All-American decided to go pro. Still widely considered a top 15 pick. A prototypical 4-3 OLB who could still intrigue as 3-4 rusher.
OLB Darron Lee (Ohio State): One Bills first-round possibility. Lee projects as a playmaking inside linebacker similar to his predecessor at Ohio State, Ryan Shazier. Lee had 66 tackles (11 for a loss) and 4.5 sacks last fall.
OLB/DE Noah Spence (Eastern Kentucky): Was permanently banned from the Big Ten and underwent treatment for an addiction to Ecstasy. Rather than go pro, Spence transferred to Eastern Kentucky and had 22.5 tackles for loss with 13.5 sacks. Team interviews at the Combine will be important.
OLB Shaq Lawson (Clemson): Could project as a 3-4 OLB after erupting for 25.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks on a Clemson team that reached the title game. Tough, nasty demeanor and built like a heavyweight boxer.