Bud Foster continues the move to the darkside (3-4 defense)

I jest a wee bit. I actually am in favor of moving in that direction considering Foster's defensive scheme.

First, there is a knee-jerk reaction to anyone mentioning the 3-4 defense in college:

1) You have to have a jumbo defensive tackle who can eat up 3 blockers every play. You know, like in the NFL.

2) Al Groh tried it at UVA and it didn't work.

3) I'm don't have any argument against it but your mere mention of it makes my head explode as if a bunch of pedophiles were burning the American flag at my kid's elementary school on a Sunday.

However, Foster began this move last year when he began experimenting with the 3-0 scheme on obvious passing downs. Part of this was out of necessity. His Whip LB was weak in pass coverage. He needed to get more pressure up the middle against teams on passing downs. In reality, he was mimicking the 3-3-5 scheme that WVU has been using for the last few years. However, it worked pretty darned well.

Now Foster is off to Ohio State to look at their defensive scheme. While Tressell (aka Cheaty McSweatervest) doesn't play a true 3-4, he uses something very similar. Three linemen line up in the down position with a four lineman linedup as a hybrid DE/OLB. This player sometimes referred to as the "Jack" linebacker is primarily is a pass rusher but will sometimes drop into coverage if a safety blitz is called. The key though is that it allows a coordinator to mix up his coverages and packages and be unpredictable. tOSU has been playing this scheme for years and if you haven't noticed, there are quite a few Buckeye linebackers in the NFL.

Roughly half the NFL's teams use the 3-4 defense so players who have been in the scheme have a natural advantage over players who have not. If you look at the recently drafted VT defensive ends, they have for the most part been converted over to OLB (Worilds, Ellis and this year Friday). VT's linemen are generally too small to play DE in the pros. Tapp has done well but he's had his problems with staying consistent against bigger offensive linemen.

Last year's recruiting season showed that VT needs to change it's approach to recruiting LB's. Losing out on guys like Grant (who never really considered VT) and Anthony says that other schools are using VT's scheme to negatively recruit. VT needs a selling point to get some of these high profile guys. Pitching the 3-4 can do that in a couple of ways. First, with 4 linebacking positions, VT can offer guys more chances at playing time. If you are looking at a team's depth chart, you see 4 linebacking positions and it increases the recruits chances of early playing time by 1/3rd. Next, the recruit has a chance to play in a system that is used by a big chunk of the NFL and thus, makes the recruit more marketable at the next level.

I found Chris Coleman's article over on TSL about the Spring practices to be very insightful. I have had a feeling that VT was heading in this direction for sometime due to the Foster scheme which has always favored speed and unpredictability over size and convention. There are some hurdles particularly on the defensive line (playing two gap versus one gap). Those can be worked out. However, don't be surprised if Foster tries to find a way to play his three linebackers next year (Bruce G, Chase Williams and Barquell Rivers) with Gayle lined up as the Jack backer. With JR. Collins playing a dual role as a DE/DT, he will be essentially playing like a 3-4 DE. A lot will depend on how quickly the players can pick up the new tactics. Also, some of the young talent needs to step up (Acree, McCray).

Come to the darkside Bud. You don't have to tell anyone what your are actually doing. Only a few of us will notice and we promise not to say anything.

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