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The 3-4 Defense and Texas Tech: A Look at Personnel

We (Texas Tech fans) keep talking about the possibility of running a 3-4 defense next year. Lots of folks have lots of opinions on what exactly it takes to run a 3-4, some of them accurate, some of them perhaps not, but I decided that simply espousing my opinions on the matter certainly wouldn't help the situation, we needed something that we could sink our teeth into rather than making assumptions.

Let's get to it.

When trying to figure out whether or not Texas Tech has the right personnel, I first thought that I should take a look at other college teams, but those teams being few and far between (notably Notre Dame, Alabama and Virginia - hat-tip to Kayakyakr) I didn't think that those 3 teams alone could really give us a good idea as to personnel and thought it would be wise to include some professional teams to consider.

The professional teams considered are being looked at from a pure personnel standpoint. I thought at the very least we could draw some generalizations about personnel from taking a look at 4 NFL Teams who have been successful running the 3-4.

The first defense I decided to tackle was the Dallas Cowboys defense:

Dallas Position Ht/Wt
Marcus Spears DE 6-4/305
Jay Ratliff NT 6-4/298
Chris Canty DE 6-7/299
Greg Ellis OLB 6-6/265
Bradie James ILB 6-2/239
Akin Ayodele ILB 6-2/240
DeMarcus Ware OLB 6-4/252

Okay, my broad generalizations . . . Ratliff isn't quite 300 pounds, yet the Cowboys have had some success stopping the run (4th in the NFL). The thing that jumps out at me is the size of the defensive ends, are both basically the same size as a typical defensive tackle, but with more height. Next, the outside linebackers are rangy and just from watching the Cowboys all season, Ellis is a pretty good pass rusher, while Ware is an amazing pass rusher who may be the best in the NFL. The inside backers have pretty good size.

Next, Pittsburgh:

Pittsburgh Position Ht/Wt
Nick Eason DE 6-3/305
Casey Hampton NT 6-1/325
Brett Keisel DE 6-5/285
Clark Haggans OLB 6-4/243
James Farrior ILB 6-2/243
Larry Foote ILB 6-1/239
James Harrison OLB 6-0/242

The Pittsburgh 3-4 obviously utilizes a large nose-tackle in Hampton and once again, the defensive ends are pretty big, while the linebackers again have excellent size, they don't get to the quarterback quite like Dallas does. That being said, Pittsburgh is #1 in total defense and #3 in rushing defense and passing defense. A very effective group, despite being #13 in sacks.

The Patriots are next:

New England Position Ht/Wt
Ty Warren DE 6-4/300
Vince Wilfork NT 6-2/325
Jarvis Green DE 6-3/285
Mike Vrabel OLB 6-4/261
Eric Alexander ILB 6-2/240
Teddy Bruschi ILB 6-1/247
Adalius Thomas OLB 6-2/270

Once again, a big nose tackle in Wilfork with book-end defensive ends who have excellent size. I don't follow the NFL as closely, but I do know that Thomas is an immensely talented player. Note that New England's outside linebackers are 10 to 20 pounds bigger than the Cowboys' outside linebackers and they seem to have average size inside linebackers.

The final professional team is San Diego:

San Diego Position Ht/Wt
Igor Olshansky DE 6-4/305
Jamal Williams NT 6-4/298
Louis Castillo DE 6-3/290
Shawne Merriman OLB 6-4/272
Matt Wilhelm ILB 6-4/245
Stephen Cooper ILB 6-1/235
Shaun Phillips OLB 6-3/262

Note that the Charges, much like the Cowboys have a 300 pound nose tackle while their defensive ends have the same size as the other professional teams. Merriman has lost somewhat of a step compared to last year (busted for steroids and hasn't been quite as dominant), but the other linebackers are comparable in size to the other teams.

Now we move on to the collegiate ranks, including an opponent that we know very well, the Virginia Cavaliers:

Virginia Position Ht/Wt
Chris Long DE 6-4/284
Jeffrey Fitzgerald DE 6-3/279
Alex Field DE 6-7/288
Allen Billyk NT 6-4/287
Nate Collins NT 6-2/281
Jermaine Dias OLB 6-1/237
Jon Copper ILB 6-0/232
Antonio Appleby ILB 6-4/248
Clint Sintim OLB 6-3/256

Both of Virginia's nose tackles are under 300 pounds, however, the difference here is that defensive end Chris Long requires a double team no matter where he is. Additionally, the rushing linebacker Sintim has pretty good size for a linebacker, while the other linebackers probably average a little over 240. One other thing, Virginia was #17 in total defense for the year.

On to our second collegiate team, Alabama:

Alabama Position Ht/Wt
Wallace Gilberry DE 6-4/264
Lorenzo Washington NT 6-4/285
Brandon Deaderick DE 6-4/271
Ezekia Knight LB 6-4/238
Keith Saunders LB 6-3/248
Rolando McClain LB 6-4/255
Darren Mustin LB 6-2/237

Alabama looks similar to Virginia on the front three, but their defensive ends a little smaller. Once again, the nose tackle is about 15 pounds under 300, but their linebackers have excellent size. The Crimson Tide was #28 in defense this year.

The final college team is Notre Dame:

Notre Dame Position Ht/Wt
Trevor Laws DE 6-1/296
Pat Kuntz NT 6-3/285
Dwight Stephenson, Jr. DE 6-2/272
John Ryan LB 6-5/253
Kerry Neal LB 6-2/245
Maurice Crum LB 6-0/230
Joe Brockington LB 6-2/240

Smaller nose-tackle, and as all the other teams, the defensive ends have excellent size, while the linebackers are all pretty big. Notre Dame was #43 in total defense this year.

Okay, so now I think I have some generalizations about the type of personnel that it takes to run a 3-4.

  • It's not required that the nose tackle be a giant at 325. Dallas and San Diego both have nose tackles that are about 300 pounds while each of the college teams have teams have a nose tackle hovering in the 285 range.
  • Size at defensive end. All of the teams have relative size at defensive end, typically the same size as a 4-3 defensive tackle, but more than likely with better quickness. Even the collegiate teams have pretty good size at defensive end.
  • The linebackers are also typically in the 230 to 250 range, which is pretty big, at least in comparison to Texas Tech linebackers.
  • Overall, the point is to get bigger along the front 7. I think we are used to seeing guys who are undersized, even in a 4-3, but I think it's apparent that the 3-4 defense is intended to get bigger at every position. I don't think that undersized players will work as well in a 3-4.

Now, let's take a look at the personnel at Texas Tech and try and project where they might play.

Nose Tackle:

Texas Tech Position Ht/Wt
Colby Whitlock DT 6-2/281
Richard Jones DT 6-1/277
Bobby Agoucha DT 6-4/328

I don't think there's any doubt, at least I don't think I have any doubt that Whitlock, can play the nose tackle position. I don't think the position requires that he be 325 and most other collegiate teams don't have a 325 nose tackle. It probably wouldn't hurt for Whitlock to at the very least maintain a 285 average. The other thing to remember for Whitlock is that he was a true freshman and I would imagine that playing defensive line, whether it be nose tackle or not is about strength and technique. Most players that Whitlock was going up against had him in both categories, but that should change next year.

Agoucha is supposed to be a beast and it certainly doesn't hurt to have a nose tackle with that size. I, along with each of you, have't seen him play, but I would imagine that Agoucha spent his redshirt year focusing on getting stronger and technique.

I kept Richard Jones in the mix because I don't think he would project to defensive end and there's really not any other position where I think he would be comfortable. Adding a little weight would probably be good for Jones and remember that he'll be a junior next year.

Defensive End:

Texas Tech Position Ht/Wt
Rajon Henley DT 6-3/265
Jake Ratliff DE 6-7/247
Brandon Williams DE 6-5/253
Broderick Marshall DE 6-5/280
McKinnor Dixon DE 6-3/275
Brandon SeSay DE 6-6/273
David Neill DE/DT 6-5/270
Joey Fowler DE 6-4/260
Ryan Haliburton DE 6-4/234
Sean Estelle DE 6-3/248

I'm pretty comfortable with this group. I've moved Howard and Riley to linebacker because I don't think they have the size to stay at defensive end.

The two returning defensive ends, Williams and Ratliff would need to put on some weight to really be effective in the 3-4. Williams I think makes up for some lack of size by being pretty quick off the ball, but in comparing the other teams, 250 defensive ends just aren't going to cut it.

I've moved Henley to defensive end because I do think he has the quickness to be effective and he is closer to being the right size that most of the other returning players.

Obviously, the most intriguing names are Sesay, Marshall and Dixon. All three of them already have the size to play a 3-4 defensive end position and although there is talk amongst fans to move Dixon to defensive tackle, if the 3-4 was utilized, I think he could stay at defensive end very comfortably.

Projecting the freshmen, I think that Fowler could certainly play at the end position, while Haliburton would need to add some weight. Redshirt freshman David Neill already has the size to play at the end position and depending on how much weight he gained while redshirting and in the offseason, could determine whether he will end up at tackle or end.

I'm clueless about Estelle and would imagine that he won't see the field.

Outside Linebackers:

Texas Tech Position Ht/Wt
Daniel Howard DE 6-3/238
Sandy Riley DE 6-0/248
Brandon Sharpe DE 6-3/243
Sam Fehoko LB 6-2/220
Tyrone Sonier LB 6-2/225

The linebacker positions have been the most difficult for me to project. I think that Howard, Riley and Sharpe (if Sharpe can even play) could play the outside linebacker position. I think they all three have the speed to get to the passer and they have the size to stop those outside runs. I was torn on where to project both Fehoko and Sonier, but then thought that they both played defensive end on high school and could seem them playing outside linebacker quite easily. In fact they both might be better suited to play outside linebacker in the 3-4 rather than the outside linebacker positions in the 4-3.

Inside Linebacker:

Texas Tech Position Ht/Wt
Brian Duncan LB 6-1/239
Marlon Williams LB 6-0/211
Victor Hunter LB 5-11/256
Blake Collier LB 6-2/212
Bront Bird LB 6-3/222

Collier and Marlon Williams may be the odd men out as far as linebacker positions go. If they are at all at 220 then I think they could play but 210 is pretty small for a linebacker in the first place, but it would be 30 pounds to small for a 3-4 inside linebacker. Brian Duncan and Victor Hunter seem like they were made to play inside linebacker in the 3-4 and I don't think there's any problem with them playing at those positions. Bront Bird would certainly project to play inside and if he could gradually add some weight without losing much speed I would really like Bird at inside linebacker long term.

So now I ask you DTN readers: Would you make any other generalizations? Would you change where I've placed any of the current players on the Texas Tech roster? What have I missed?