Let me start by saying I think I know a whole lot more about the defensive line than I do about the linebackers and defensive backs. Through all of my playing days, I never sniffed a position that wasn't on the line of scrimmage.
Let's start off by looking at the base 3-4 alignment again.
Today, we're looking at everyone NOT labeled T, N or E. From left to right, linebackers to defensive backs, the positions are as follows (above): Bandit, Will, Mike and Raider. In the secondary, they run Field Corner, Field Safety, Boundary Safety, Boundary Corner.
As touched on here prior to the Spring Game, Seth C broke down what the "Field" and "Boundary" designations meant, as well as looking at a combo coverage, which I will do in another post. We learn that the "Field" DBs are set to the "wide" side of the field. In the illustration above, that is the left. The offensive formation is shifted closer to the right hash, meaning the wide side of the field is to the left. "Boundary" is set to the "close" side of the field, opposite as the Field players.
Your post-spring two-deep looks like this:
|Field Corner||Field Safety||Boundary Safety||Boundary Corner|
|Starter||La'Darius Newbold||Keenon Ward||J.J. Gaines||Justis Nelson|
|Backup||Dee Paul||Dorian Crawford||Jalen Barnes||Thierry Nguema|
Now obviously this is still a fluid two-deep.Off the top of my head, I can remember hearing that Dorian Crawford may factor into the rotation at Raider. Josh Keys could very well work his way into the picture at one of the safety positions, as well as Nigel Bethel II into a cornerback position. Even so, those top eight guys are solid. I wouldn't feel too uncomfortable if all 4 of the backups were in there.
The Field corner and safety will always be on the same side of the field together. The Boundary corner and safety will always be on the same side of the field together. When the ball placement merits a flip from one side to the other, all 4 DBs will flip together. There is no mirroring of one receiver as some DCs so with cover corners (although we saw Wally move Bruce Jones around in the WVU game this past year to defend one particular WR). Simple, right?
The two middle linebackers are pretty standard. You have a Will (weakside) and a Mike (strong side/middle). If I'm not mistaken, the Will will line up behind the Tackle and the Mike will line up over the gap between the Nose and the End.
Bandit and Raider is where everything gets interesting. They're hybrid positions that allow for them to play multiple roles with varying assignments.
Your Bandit linebacker is your hybrid outside linebacker - defensive end. This is the prototypical rushing OLB in the 3-4. Previous names here would be (forgive me) Von Miller and Eric Striker. The Bandit will mostly be rushing the passer off the edge around the left tackle (still looking into the front seven flipping and play charting). He will only drop back occasionally and when he does, its most likely into a zone. The interception in the picture at the top was from a play where he dropped back in a zone. He is going to need to be a quick runner, with the ability to work off the left tackle's block. Robertson was a QB in HS and a very gifted athlete. Pete Robertson is your no-brainer starter here. Kris Williams and Andre Ross will be battling throughout the summer and fall camp for that no. 2 spot.
Your Raider linebacker is a hybrid outside linebacker - safety - nickel coverage guy. This is going to be a bigger safety type or smallish LB that has range to go sideline to sideline. In run situations, he is going to be setting the edge, hopefully forcing the ball carrier back inside to pursuing linemen and other linebackers. Against an option look his way, he should be the alley or force player, meaning he stays with the outside player on the option (usually the RB) forcing the QB to keep. And then in passing situations, he will (or should) be capable of any of the calls required for a defensive back. Terrance Bullitt fit this position PERFECTLY. He had the ideal size and skillset for this position. This year, I am interested to see how Kenny Williams works out. I trust the coaching staff, because they have him in front of a couple of players that I think would be a better fit (or at least have more experience) in Austin Stewart, who backed up Bullitt, and Dorian Crawford.
Because of the varying skillset these two positions cover, the defense is afforded a lot of flexibility in defending multiple different looks and sets from an offense without having to make a single substitution. Let me show you how.
4-3 Over shift
This is a basic 4-3 alignment. The Over indicates that the linebackers have shifted over to the one particular side, most often to cover a TE. You will see that Bandit has now moved onto the defensive line in a traditional DE role. Here, he will be rushing the passer and/or covering a running back coming out of the backfield in a screen.
This is what it will look like in a game. Bandit can be standing or in a 3-point stance. Against OU and this diamond formation, Bandit was standing, but you can see Raider was also in the box (formation is flipped from illustration above).
The next shift is for defending a passing formation. Tech has used it for 2x1 and trips formation sets. Here, Robertson is in a 3-point stance as a prototypical DE. You have V.J. Fehoko and Sam Eguavoen in the box and Raider out wide over the inside receiver. Here you can see him playing deep as a nickel DB, nearly 10 yards off the ball. Tech will utilize this shift for most passing situations.
Now, I know this formation is normally a "stack" formation with the two outside linebackers covering (lining up directly behind) the two outside defensive linemen. This is a variation on the nickel shift. V. J. Fehoko shifted over more to the middle of the formation, Sam Eguavoen went to the outside and moved up to the line of scrimmage, with Robertson opposite Eguavoen. Also notice the defensive line pinched in, giving the defense a 5-man front. From what I have seen, this formation is used with 3 WRs and 2 RBs (like in the picture) and used as a blitz decoy. In this play shown below, both Robertson and Eguavoen dropped back into zone.
If you are interested in seeing how this defense can shift to cover anything from a 2-back pistol formation to a 5-wide set WITHOUT substituting, go back and rewatch the first series in the Spring Game (now I say without substituting, but they do, but they don't take an inside linebacker off for another DB, they made a wholesale change to 2nd team).
Next week, we're going to look more at the defensive backs and their coverages; what cover 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 mean and look like and how blitzes fit into those coverages.