As stated before, the Aggies will be changing to a 4-3 look for their first year in the SEC. Before we dissect some of the scheme it should be noted that new D-Coordinator Mark Snyder has an impeccable resume with the 4-3 defense, including a National Championship with the Ohio State Buckeyes. That NC defense included players such as Chris Gamble, Mike Doss, Will Smith, AJ Hawk and Matt Wilhelm. They also held opponents to less than 14 points per game that season. Let’s look at some different aspects of what the 4-3 has to offer as well as some of the risks it imposes.
Much of this defense relies on being balanced on the field pre-snap. There are small variations that can be done with the front depending on the offensive formation, like shifting linebacker alignment. Good safety play can allow the strong safety to play inside the box giving the defense an instant 8 man front. Due to its reliance on balance, offenses will sometimes use flood formations like trips to bring linebackers outside of the box in an attempt to create mismatches.
- Simple Personnel Packages
Being committed to 4 down lineman requires separate personnel packages for specific defensive situations. Taking out a D-Lineman in the 4-3 isn’t as subtle as replacing a linebacker in the 3-4 with a safety or cornerback. Typically, completely different personnel packages are prepared for Nickel and other defensive strategies.
- A True Middle Linebacker
The 4-3 requires a true middle linebacker. As anyone probably knows, Ray Lewis’ and Andy Katzenmoyer’s don’t just grow on trees. Generally, outside linebackers are easier to find and coach because most of their game is either blitzing or dropping back into coverage, in short; playing on the move. The middle linebacker in the 4-3 scheme is the anchor of the defense. He starts from a stationary position and has to be able to shut down at least 3 gaps between the tackles by himself as well as be an aggressive sideline to sideline pursuer. He has to be technically sound and big enough to consistently take on blockers as well as drop back into coverage. In the 3-4 scheme, the inside linebackers are taught to work together. For example, on an off tackle run play, the play side linebacker takes on the lead blocker on the outside shoulder forcing the runner back inside where the second linebacker is filling the cutback lane. In the 4-3, if the middle linebacker cannot make the play himself, he must attempt to fill the gap and take on the lead blocker as close to the line of scrimmage as possible forcing the ball carrier to run laterally to the edges where the rest of the defense is taught to rally. The 4-3 has less moving pieces than the 3-4 but tends to rely more on the responsibilities of the players themselves. Does A&M have a true middle linebacker? Sean Porter, maybe. We will see.
In part III, I will discuss whether or not this change will benefit the Aggies in their upcoming season and beyond. I will also touch on what the Aggies may or may not struggle with when they face off against SEC offenses in 2012. Stay posted, comments are encouraged.
About the Author
Written by Russ Hale
I played Inside Linebacker at the Junior College and NAIA levels. In 2009 I graduated from UNLV with a B.A. in Liberal Arts. I finished Graduate School in 2011 with a M.S. in Sports Management & Marketing.