It’ll probably be just as confusing of an answer. My .02. We do have player(s) like Austin Bryant, who have practiced both with the Dline as a DE and with the LB’s as a SAM or JACK which in THIS defense is the same position. Our starter there last season was Kennard. Guys like Flowers and Romeo Okwara are true DE’s in this system, they do not play either the JACK (SAM) or WILL LB positions. Tavai, JD, Ragland are all ILB’s so let’s just take them out of the conversation. Collins right now is a complete wildcard as he can play all three LB spots in this defense. But he’s not a DE here. Prior to the draft, most thought he would replace Kennard at SAM, but I never thought so. I thought we would get a more explosive, bendy type pass rusher to play SAM, and kick Collins over to WILL as he can cover, blitz and has size against the run.
To make matters more complicated we use a blend of traditional type DE’s and hybrid 5t/3t types like Hand and the newly aquired Cornell. Much of the time, you will see us go to a 3 man front on the DL, with Hand at LDE, Shelton at NT and Flowers at RDE. But at the snap, you’ll have J.Okwara at JACK come down on the LOS next to Hand and Collins at WILL will drop down on the LOS next to Flowers. So at the snap you’ll have 5 guys tight on the LOS then at the snap at least one of the LB’s will drop off into coverage and the other will rush along with the 3 Dlinemen.
You will also see (and to one of your questions) a traditional 4 man front with two DE’s and two DT’s. A typical starting group for us right now, may be R.Okwara LDE, Williams 3t, Shelton NT, Flowers RDE. Then you will still have your WILL and JACK or SAM. Again, both of those guys will come down often on the LOS. Literally a 6 man front at the snap. From there, they can jailbreak and send everyone, drop one or both LB’s, even drop one of the interior Dlinemen into a zone, while the LB’s rush.
One of the big reasons why this staff values guys who can do different things in the front seven, is they can easily (in theory) fool the opposing offense as to what’s coming. You know Shelton isn’t, but in this system, that’s about the only position you won’t have to worry about sacking the QB. We haven’t had the right guys at the right time as a group to really see this work consistently, but we’ve gone a long way towards fixing that, and I have no doubt we’ll have another addition to this group before snap one. Likely at LDE or 3t DT. Maybe both!