Nick Saban’s version of the 3-4 defense usually designates one outside linebacker as the Jack and the other as the Sam. The Jack is a hybrid linebacker/defensive end pass-rushing type. The Sam, well, that’s the strongside ‘backer, of course.
Only Saban says that he’s looking for his two best outside linebackers, not necessarily his best Sam and his best Jack:
“We have two outside linebackers. If you say, ‘Who are we going to play at the end of the day?’ The two best outside linebackers. Not a Sam, not a Jack. (Adrian) Hubbard played Sam for a long time, he’s played Jack some. Xzavier Dickson’s played Jack. We’ve got Dillon Lee playing Sam, lots of young players competing at the position. All those guys are going to compete, but at the end of the day when we play against regular people, we’re going to play the best two outside ‘backers.”
A huge philosophical shift? Not really. While most 3-4 defenses designate a hybrid pass-rusher by name, there’s so much rotation and flip-flopping in today’s game — and so much nickel package used, too — that the “Jack” name really doesn’t mean a whole heckuva lot. Most coaches — whether they’ve come up with a LB/DE hybrid or a LB/S hybrid — are just looking to get their best 11 guys on the field as much as possible.