Mike Nolan brought several things with him from San Francisco. He brought the plans for a nascent 3-4 defense, with some hybrid attributes, that is yet to be unveiled. He brought a background in working for the Denver Broncos, an understanding of the traditions of the organization and a knowledge of the town. Oh, yes, and he brought with him the wide-load defensive tackle and nose tackle Ronald Fields.
Fields is a 6'2" defensive lineman who runs between 315 and 330 lbs. depending on who's weighing him, and who came to excite Nolan while he ran the Team by the Bay. A little bit younger than most of our current FA acquisitions, Fields was born on August 13, 1981 so he'll be 28 when the season starts. He shares a birthday with Alfred Hitchcock and like the film master, Fields can fool you. He was a rookie in 2005, drafted in the 5th round (pick 137 overall) by the aforesaid 49ers. In four seasons, the former Mississippi State player has a total of 75 tackles and one sack. These aren't numbers that make you jump off your chair, but there is a reason why Mike Lombardi at the NFP said,
"Excellent power player and if a team wants to run a 3-4, he is the perfect player. He will make a ton of money in the market."
Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula put a camera at the line of scrimmage during the last minicamp to better assess his players. The camera allows Tomsula to see who has the best jump and the quickest hands. A sprinters' jump allows a pass rusher to get up field and into the back field in a flash. Quick hands allow a nose tackle to get his hands on the center right after the snap, when the center only has one hand to fend off the hard-charging nose.
The quickest pair of hands on the line might belong to Ron Fields and is a major reason he's switching from defensive end to nose tackle. Isaac Sopoaga will play more defensive end next year, because he's so quick off the ball. At 330 pounds, Sopoaga is just as quick at the snap as Tully Banta-Cain, who weighs 270. The switch of Fields to nose tackle and Sopoaga to defensive end could make a difference this year in the all-important line play."
Please recall that HT has told us that the key word for linemen in the 3-4 is ‘explosiveness'. That means fast feet and fast hands combined with an ability to anchor. They aren't contradictory skills - they are complementary. For a NT, it's particularly important in controlling the center. It means getting your hands on the O-Linemen before they get theirs on you. From that moment on, you can control the center, control the linemen and control the trenches. Firstfan's substantial experience tells us what all experienced football fans know - the game is won in the trenches. Landing Fields gives us a chance to win, and to win this year.
If you need more convincing, read from Rotoworld.com:
"Best Bang for the Buck: Ronald Fields
Fields' market value would be a lot higher if Mike Nolan had ever decided what defense to run in San Francisco. Constantly shuttled between a 4-3 left defensive tackle, "zero" technique and "five" technique in Nolan's 3-4 hybrid, Fields never got comfortable enough to capture his potential. But the man is only 27, 6'2/321, and was a difference maker when he got to play full time down the stretch in 2006. With quick hands that let him dictate the line of scrimmage, Fields could flourish under a masterful line coach like the Titans' Jim Washburn.
Prediction: Titans - four years, $6M guaranteed"
“The rest of the league missed the boat on Fields, who is 27, 6'2/321, and can play tackle and end. He gives new DC Mike Nolan a credible option at nose tackle in 3-4 looks. Fields started under Nolan with the Niners in 2007.”
If Fields works out, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Broncos give him that 4-year contract and more than $6 million. It's going to be harder and harder to find those NTs as more teams move to the 3-4 and the 3-4/4-3 hybrid forms that require one.
There's even more to Ron Fields. His Wiki entry tells us that Fields attended Mississippi State University, where he played nose guard, won first-team All-Southeastern Conference accolades, and finished his career with one sack, 172 tackles (16.5 for losses), six quarterback hurries, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. He majored in teaching and coaching. Ron Fields is more than a nose guard. He's thoughtful, methodical, a tactician and a student of the game. When the Broncos find that next piece, the NT of the future, Fields is the perfect player/coach to mentor him and groom him for the next level.
There's no hurry there, either. Grady Jackson is drawing considerable interest as a possible NT at 35 years of age (editor's note - Jackson agreed to terms with Detroit yesterday). Jamal Williams of San Diego is starting to struggle with injuries and age at 33. At only 27, Fields is just coming into his game. It's often said, rightfully, that D-Linemen take time to mature. He started to come on in 2006, and in 2009 he's ready to move forward and take command of his game. That bodes well for the Broncos. It could be a half-decade or more before that next player needs to step into the starting role for Denver. It's plenty of time to find and groom him, although we may have different backups in between.
Our counterparts at ninernation.com weighed in before the FA period, saying,
Ronald Fields: Fields is a guy who's really struggled to find his way in four seasons with the 49ers. He gets mixed in as a defensive end and defensive tackle but has never really found a specific role. Scouts Inc. indicated he "looks" more like a nose tackle or 4-3 defensive tackle. Of course, given that he's an unrestricted free agent, the 49ers might be willing to let him walk if he wants too much money. I indicated he'd be gone in my early predictions, but a cheap sticker price could keep him in town. He's 27, which is still relatively young, but it might be worth just stocking up in the draft with even younger guys with more upside."
Scouts Inc. had pronounced him a better nose. More importantly, like many younger players he needed to find out what his role was and how to play it. That's why people talked about him struggling - that news was really two seasons past, but we all know how easily players get pigeon-holed by coaches and fans alike. Ron Fields has the body, intellect, desire and talent to be an excellent NT. He is versatile, but he has the capacity to do something that not a lot of players have the drive, desire, body type and skill-set to achieve - playing the 3-4 NT position well.
Some have been concerned that he ‘flew beneath the radar.' That was one thing that I particularly liked - everyone who knew the sport well and knew Fields was certain that he was going to be a good player. The coach who knew him best reached out and made sure that he would be wearing the orange and blue this season. And a team who had a huge question mark staring at them from the NT slot last month now have a fairly young (as the position goes) and very talented man for decent money manning the front and center of the D line.
What does this mean for our draft position? Not much, really. We still have potential openings at DE, could use that 2nd-string DT/NT (Powell is a fine idea, but currently too light and is totally inexperienced at the NFL level), should upgrade the LB corps and grab another safety. Then there is the new reality at WR and TE, depth for the O-Line and the possibility of another RB for competition in camp (I don't know if Hall or Young will make the cut). But we have the anchor for the center of our D-Line, something we've been missing for years.
You have to start building a team by building the lines. Thanks to Mike Shanahan, our O-Line is one of the best in the game. The problems we've had with the D-Line have just gone down a major, 330 lb. notch. That has to leave our fans feeling a lot better about the Broncos as they gear up for a tough schedule in 2009. Landing a NT like Fields has me so excited that, like this referee, I'm ready to start punching out opposing players.