Last time, I focused on inside linebacker Gary Guyton and the impact he could have on New England’s defense. This time, I’m looking at Shawn Crable, a 2008 3rd round draft choice who also could add speed to the linebacking corp.
First, Crable needs to win a starting job or at least find a defensive role that gets him on the field. As a rookie, he didn’t play a down in the regular season. He was a game day inactive for 8 games, and then landed on Injured Reserve.
That 4.6 matches fellow outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, who was leading the team in sacks last year until he suffered a season ending injury. With Thomas and Crable on opposite sides, New England could have a good speed rush on both edges.
Of course, Thomas and Crable wouldn’t have been bookends had they played opposite sides last season. On bull rushes, the 6’2 Thomas brings 270 lbs to the mix. Coming out of college, the 6’5 Crable only weighed 243 pounds. New England’s official bio still lists him at that weight.
Maybe “reed thin” is cliché, but it described Crable’s legs. On the other hand, he got 29 reps with 225lbs on the bench press. This was decent, not great among defensive linemen, but he would have ranked second in the linebacker group.
Playing outside linebacker isn’t only about rushing the passer though. Outside linebackers need to defend the run too. Sometimes they’re asked to drop back in pass coverage.
Crable’s height and leaping ability can wreak havoc for opponents in the form of batted passes and blocked kicks.
Unfortunately, Crable’s height also gives him some leverage problems. The author of Crable’s combine analysis said Crable was inconsistent on keeping his pad level low.
Combined with his relative lack of weight, this poses problems in taking on run blockers and setting the edge against the run.
The analysis writer noted that Crable did well against blockers when he used his hands and got good arm extension. When offensive linemen got their hands on Crable though, he had problems. He also had trouble with double teams and plays run right at him.
While the analyst thought Crable showed some pass coverage skills, he thought he didn’t do as well in zone coverage. Crable grabbed an interception in the 2008 preseason.
Some observers blame Crable’s lack of bulk on the antiquated strength and conditioning program Michigan had while Crable was there. This was the same program which sent a scrawny Tom Brady to the NFL. In New England’s program, Brady bulked up to respectable levels during his first year.
The analysis writer believed Crable's frame could carry 260 lbs. This would give him ideal size for an outside linebacker in New England’s system. That’s how much recently traded Mike Vrabel weighed.
Crable said he has spent the offseason studying film of former Patriot Willie McGinest who is also 6’5.
Among the competitors Crable faces are Tully Banta-Cain, Pierre Woods, and Vince Redd.
Tully Banta-Cain returns to the Patriots after a disappointing stint in San Francisco. However, he knows New England’s system, and played well enough during his final season in it to prompt the 49ers to give him a big contract.
Pierre Woods has shown flashes, but he’s proven disappointing. In Super Bowl XLII, he pounced on a Giants’ fumble. It could have made a big difference in the game. The problem is, a Giant took the ball away from him, and New York kept possession.
In 2008, Woods had a big game against the Jets. He looked like he was coming on. Then he got hit in the jaw, and his season was over.
Vince Redd has terrific speed for a linebacker, running a 4.5. Coming out of college, he had strength issues. However, besides New England’s staff and players, who knows what a year in an NFL strength and conditioning program may have done for him?
It will be interesting to see how Crable does against that competition. Right now, Banta-Cain’s experience makes him appear the strongest contender. If Redd can get stronger, his speed is intriguing.
Watch No. 98 Crable this preseason. See how he stacks up against his rivals. He’s interesting for his potential in rushing the QB. How well can he do here exactly? Is he so good that it will minimize other short comings until he’s able to eliminate them?
Watch how well he performs other linebacking responsibilities. Watch his pass coverage. Watch how he does taking on run blockers, setting the edge, and tackling runners. Has he bulked up? Will the Patriots actually list any increase, or do we have to judge for ourselves?
What if Crable isn’t well-rounded enough to start? Could he help in another way? Years ago, the 49ers took an underweight defensive end, Fred Dean, and made him a pass rush specialist. Dean ended up in The Hall of Fame. If he can’t start right away, could Crable find a similar pass rush role with New England?
Whether as a starter or a pass rush specialist, Crable would add more speed and youth to a defense which many once derided as “old and slow.” This preseason, he has a chance to show what he can do.