With Mike Nealís future in question, you can be certain the Green Bay Packers are back searching out more college defensive linemen to turn into 3-4 outside linebackers at this week's NFL scouting combine.
Some draft prospects like UCLA senior Cassius Marsh are mid-to-late round draft prospects preparing for any possible scenario.
A college teammate of Packersí 2013 first-round pick Datone Jones, Marsh measured in at 6-foot, 253 pounds and said heís confident he can transition to playing either role as a 4-3 defensive end or standing up in a defense similar to what defensive coordinator Dom Capers runs in Green Bay.
Marsh hasnít talked to the Packers in Indianapolis yet Ė he estimates he had six or seven interviews on Friday Ė but spoke with team personnel at last monthís East/West Shrine game.
After playing in both a 4-3 and 3-4 during his time at UCLA, he can see the commonalities between the defense Jim Mora has installed with the Bruins and Capersí zone-blitz.
Listed at 268 pounds as a senior, Marsh made 60 tackles with six sacks in 13 games (12 starts) as a defensive end. Heís spent the past few months working with a linebackers coach on drops and feels he can rush out of the two-point stance if a 3-4 team like Green Bay should require it.
ď(Iím) extremely comfortable,Ē said Marsh, a mid-to-late round prospect. ďI can rush standing up or put my hand in the ground. Iíve worked on drops with the linebacker coach and my linebacker coach Iím training with right now. Iím comfortable. I think itís going to be a pretty easy transition if I go to a 3-4 team. As far as athletically, I feel very comfortable in space and very comfortable playing the football.Ē
Marsh was a workout buddy of Jones during their time together at UCLA. He hasnít talked with him directly about the combine, but shared a few recent texts. Like him, Marsh sees Jones being able to play out of the two-point stance in a 3-4 if itís required.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy has spoken out this offseason about more routinely installing an elephant position in the 3-4 defense, which consists of a player lining up as a seven-technique on the outside shoulder of a tight end.
A converted lineman, Neal could be a candidate, but the Packersí last two first round-picks (Jones and Nick Perry) could be hybrid candidates for the spot should Neal leave in free agency.
McCarthy said on Friday the Packers hoped to utilize more packages with Jones this past season, but constant injuries resulted in the defense becoming more one-dimensional. If multiple fronts is asked of him, Marsh has confidence his former teammate can handle it.
Jones, who is expected to maintain his 290-pound frame, was serviceable in an emergency appearance in last monthís playoff loss to San Francisco.
ďI think for Datone, I think we both need to work on getting off the ball more in our two-point and being more comfortable in it,Ē Marsh said. ďItís relatively new to us. He has an explosive get-off in his three-point. I love watching Datone play.Ē