INDIANAPOLIS -- Mike McCarthy grew up in Greenfield and went to the former Bishop Boyle High School in Homestead in the 1980s, so he has been reared in the spectre of Steelers football.
But, as head coach of the Green Bay Packers, he also is keenly aware of the Steelers' success using a 3-4 defensive scheme, especially this season when their defense dominated the NFL en route to a Super Bowl victory.
The Packers are one of a number of NFL teams that are trying to copy the Steelers' success by switching to a 3-4 defense next season, and McCarthy has taken all the necessary steps. He hired former Steelers defensive coordinator Dom Capers to run his defense and also added two other former Steelers who played in the 3-4 to his coaching staff -- safety/assistant Darren Perry and linebacker Kevin Greene.
"I think the challenges will still be the same as far as finding players for your football team, regardless of whether you're in a 3-4 or a 4-3," McCarthy said, taking a break from studying and interviewing players at the NFL Scouting Combine. "We'll probably pay more attention to certain body types more than we have in the past."
And that could be good news for Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin, who should benefit from the increased interest in the 3-4 defense.
Maybin, who elected to forgo his senior season with the Nittany Lions, is too small to be a defensive end in the NFL. But he has the body type (6 feet 31/2, 250 pounds) and athleticism that teams desire in an outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense.
That should increase his chances of being a high first-round selection in April, especially after Maybin added nearly 20 pounds since the end of Penn State's season.
"I'm at about 250 and I feel really comfortable at this weight and I feel as though I can either go up or I can go down," said Maybin, a first-team All-Big Ten Conference selection last season. "All of the scouts and GMs out here can basically see how I move. They can see what my athletic abilities are."
Nine teams played the 3-4 defense last season, headed by the Steelers, who ranked No. 1 in total defense and pass defense and No. 2 in rush defense. There will be at least five more this season, including the Packers, Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, New York Jets and possibly Kansas City Chiefs.
Green Bay wasn't the only team seeking the Steelers' influence.
Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt was granted permission to interview Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler about becoming his defensive coordinator, but Butler had hip replacement surgery after the Super Bowl, and Whisenhunt opted to promote his linebackers coach, Billy Davis, to the position. Davis was a defensive assistant under Capers on Bill Cowher's first coaching staff.
"There's an awful lot of teams playing the 3-4 defense right now, certainly compared to 2000 when I came to New England and it was pretty much us and Pittsburgh," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "And now the 3-4 defense seems to be as popular as it was in the 1980s."
Most coaches and general managers who use the 3-4 defense agree that the most important position in the scheme is outside linebacker, someone who can pressure and sack the quarterback. Not surprisingly, all the top sackers last season -- Dallas' DeMarcus Ware (20), Miami's Joey Porter (17.5) and the Steelers' James Harrison (16) -- were outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense.
Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said this year's draft is deep with defensive ends who project as outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense.
"When we look at the 260- or 255-pound guy, [we ask] can they make the transition to do the things they need to do from a coverage standpoint?" Colbert said. "That's always our challenge. It limits your pool to a certain extent, and it also reminds you you're going to have to have a lot of patience with these guys as they develop."
Maybin was a full-time starter for only one season at Penn State, but he was such a disruptive player off the edge -- he had 12 sacks and 20 tackles for losses last season -- that he is being projected as one of the top outside linebackers in the draft, along with Butkus Award winner Aaron Curry of Wake Forest (6-2, 246) and Southern California's Brian Cushing (6-3, 243).
Maybin, though, was a defensive end, unlike Curry and Cushing, and projects better into a 3-4 defense than those players.
"Basically, I see it as I'm going into this thing as an athlete," Maybin said. "My job is to prepare myself physically and mentally for what it is I'm going to face once I get drafted. Then once we know the scheme I'm moving into we'll move forward from there."
Copying the Steelers
Five NFL teams are considering switching to the 3-4 defense next season (figures are 2008 yards allowed per game):
Team Pass Rush Total NFL rank
New York Jets 234.5 94.9 329.4 16
Arizona Cardinals 221.2 110.2 331.5 19
Green Bay Packers 202.8 131.6 334.3 20
Denver Broncos 228.5 146.1 374.6 29
Kansas City Chiefs 234.2 158.9 393.2 31
Gerry Dulac can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .