McGinest on Clowney and the elephant

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
3:37
PM ET
Willie McGinest disagreed with the premise that the elephant position was a hybrid.

That's how it's often described -- a hybrid between a defensive end and outside linebacker. But McGinest, now an analyst for NFL Network, played the position with Romeo Crennel when Crennel was the defensive coordinator in New England.

Clowney
"You know what an elephant is?" McGinest said. "It’s a linebacker that’s a big linebacker. I played at 265. It’s a really big linebacker and the guy can play D-end too, but he’s an undersized defensive end. It’s kind of a tweener."

As we try to predict what the Texans' offensive and defensive schemes will look like, the elephant position has been a point of discussion, both because it's not often talked about in traditional defensive schemes and because of a report that if the Texans draft former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, it will be because they are convinced he can play the elephant position.

It's a position that requires the player to be able to put his hand on the ground and rush, and also to be able to drop back, which means understanding complicated coverages and deciphering offenses, depending on what kind of front the team is running. Different coaches use it in different ways. McGinest pointed to former Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' use of Demarcus Ware and later his use of Mario Williams.

Having done it himself out of college, McGinest knows exactly what it would take for Clowney to be able to make that transition. The physical differences won't be difficult, said McGinest, rather the mental challenges are much more significant.

McGinest could see it working, as long as Clowney puts in the time studying. But if the Texans take Clowney, he anticipates Crennel won't overload the rookie.

"It’s a pretty exotic defense that takes a lot of communication and a lot of adjusting to," McGinest said. "They’re not going to put him in a bad situation if he is their draft pick. They’re going to start him off like (San Francisco) started with Aldon Smith, hand in the dirt, rushing, going forward, adjusting to what he does best. As he starts to get more comfortable in the system they’ll start adding little adjustments at a time."

It will also help to have Mike Vrabel as his linebackers coach.

"Mike Vrabel is a guy who made that transition from Pittsburgh," McGinest said. "He had his hand in the dirt. ... He was more effective and became one of the best players because he can do so much. Our linebacker corps was interchangeable. Having Mike Vrabel as [Clowney's] outside linebacker coach can teach him and show him some of the things that [Vrabel] had to (learn). ...

"No disrespect to Clowney, but Vrabel’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever played (with), the transition for him was nothing for him. I don’t think Clowney’s on that level, but he does have a good teacher that can take him through the process."

Tania Ganguli

ESPN Houston Texans reporter

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