1- The hiring of Kanavis McGhee On the surface, that doesn't make a lot of sense. We got a great defensive line coach when we landed Tuiasosopo. There's no reason to believe he needs help with the defensive ends. For a linebacker coach, we've got another elite position coach in Cabral. There's no reason to believe he needs help with the outside linebackers. But we hired Greg Brown as our Defensive Coordinator. While he's an elite position coach for the secondary, this is also his first rodeo as a DC which will limit his position time/focus some and he is also a mediocre recruiter. Logically, it made sense to retain Ashley Ambrose (or hire someone like Al Simmons from Cal or Duane Akina from Texas). The only way this move makes total sense is if we're going to a traditional 3-4 base. McGhee is an expert at playing that hybrid DE/OLB role that the 3-4 demands. For that defense, we needed someone who could teach both pass rush moves and coverage skills to a group of guys. 2 - The 2011 recruiting class We took so many hybrid or tweener type players. Or at least it seemed that we did. But that's only if you look at it from a 4-3 defense perspective. From a 3-4 perspective, we took guys who are prototypical for their position. Stephan Nembot was born to play 3-4 DE. Then, we loaded up on linebackers. Some of them were supposed to be too short to play DE... they're OLBs in a 3-4. Some of them were supposed to be big safeties that will likely convert to linebackers... they're ILBs in a 3-4. Plus, we signed an ILB who is a big run stuffer in Brady Daigh... that's the ILB that goes to the strong side of the formation in a 3-4. At corner, we focused on big guys who can press cover and come up in run support. Typical 3-4, again. We also took Greg Henderson, a small corner who is a speed demon that played a bunch of safety in high school so he could make more plays. He's a natural fit as either the nickel corner that defense utilizes against spread formations or even as the freelance safety. 3 - Roster moves we have already seen Eric Richter to defensive line doesn't make a lot of sense if we're playing a 4-3. The area where he was struggling as an OG was with his foot speed to pull or get to the second level. But where he absolutely excels is as a bull in a short area. If you're not quick enough for guard, you're not quick enough to play a 4-3 DT. But you are definitely quick enough to play NT in a 3-4. The primary responsibility there is to hold the point of attack against a double team or blow it up if they try to single block with the center. Likewise, Ahles and Harrington were moved out of the linebacker spots and are converting to fullback. Ahles didn't have great pass rush skills to be able to play the 3-4 OLB spot and he had already moved out of the inside. He probably would have been ok, but really was a better FB out of high school and our new offense requires a FB. That's probably more a move of need than him being ill-suited to the 3-4. More of a best use of team assets thing in his case. But with Harrington, it's a matter of not being able to use small linebackers in a 3-4. He's under 6 feet tall. When you're only playing with 3 DLs, you need big dudes at your LB spots. As an aside, it wouldn't surprise me if Harrington ended up redshirting as he learned the fullback position this year and then replaced Ahles at FB as a 5th year senior in 2012. So, what might this mean for our defense and who shuffles where? I'm going to base this off the Pittsburgh Steeler defense since that's pretty much the gold standard for the 3-4 and they've been on tv so much that everyone should be fairly familiar with their roster. At NT, you need a massive dude who is extremely powerful. An elite player at the position will be nimble, too, and able to flow from sideline to sideline. At one time Casey Hampton was elite for the Steelers, but now he's more of a space eater as he's gotten older. Casey is 6'1" and 325 lbs. On our roster, we have 4 guys who fit that position with Eugene Goree (6'1" 310 lb senior), Eric Richter (6'3" 310 lb junior), Nate Bonsu (6'1" 290 lb sophomore) and Kirk Poston (6'1" 260 lb rs-freshman who is reportedly up to 290 now). Next, at DE, you need guys who can play a 2-gap technique. Instead of being a 1-gap pass rusher like you see in 4-3 DEs, these are bigger guys (usually tall) who can control an OT to avoid getting moved on running plays while also keeping him off the OLB if the blitz comes from that side. On the Steelers, you have 3 top guys at this position with Aaron Smith (6'5" 298 lbs), Bret Keisel (6'5" 285 lbs) and Ziggy Hood (6'3" 300 lbs). On our roster, we have 4 guys who fit the position with Conrad Obi (6'3" 295 lb senior), Will Pericak (6'4" 280 lb junior), Nick Kasa (6'6" 275 lb junior), and Stephan Nembot (6'7" 270 lb freshman). Odd man out: Curtis Cunningham doesn't have the bulk to play NT in a 3-4 and doesn't have the height and arm length to be an ideal DE in a 3-4. It's going to be interesting to see how they integrate him. He's too productive not to be in the rotation. At OLB, you need guys that can get to the quarterback but who are also athletic enough to drop into coverage. These are the primary playmakers on the defense in the 3-4. On the Steelers, the starters are both elite with LaMarr Woodley (6'2" 265 lbs) and James Harrison (6'0" 242). Prototypically, you want guys who are over 6 feet tall and weighing in between 240 and 260 lbs. On our roster, we are in good position here with a lot of DEs who were never suited to a 4-3 system. The 5 guys to look at are Josh Hartigan (6'1" 225 lb senior), Forrest West (6'1" 260 lb junior), Chidera Uzo-Diribe (6'3" 230 lb sophomore), Juda Parker (6'2" 230 lb freshman) and Woodson Greer (6'2" 225lb freshman). That leaves ILB for last. On the Steelers, they have historically paired a bigger run stuffer for the strong side of the formation along with a really fast freelancer who can cover deep middle, flow sideline to sideline and also shoot the gap on blitzes. But they've used a lot of combinations over the years and they all work. The key is that they LB has to be stout enough to take on an OG but quick enough to cover a tight end. Currently, the Steelers start James Farrior (6'2" 243 lbs) and Lawrence Timmons (6'1" 234 lbs). Looking at the Buffs, we've got guys that fit the mold with Jon Major (6'1" 225 lb junior), Douglas Rippy (6'1" 235 lb junior), Derrick Webb (6'0" 220 lb sophomore), Liloa Nobriga (6'2" 215 lb sophomore), Lowell Williams (6'1" 210 lb rs-freshman), and Brady Daigh (6'2" 230 lb freshman). Odd man out: Patrick Mahnke doesn't have the bulk to hold up on the inside of a 3-4. His best bet for seeing the field in this system will be as a specialist working as a nickel linebacker on passing downs. Players to watch to see where they ultimately fit: Jermaine Clark (6'2" 200 lb freshman), K.T. Tu'umalo (6'3" 210 lb freshman) and Will Harlos (6'4" 200 lb freshman) were all recruited as athletes. They could end all end up at safety or either one of the linebacker positions in a 3-4, depending on how they develop. Since the front 7 is what's different between a 3-4 and a 4-3, I'm not going to spend much time on the secondary. Generally, you're going to see an aggressive zone behind the 3-4 and that may be a bit different from what we're used to seeing. In general, the Steelers have preferred big cornerbacks (6'0" or taller) who can help in run support and physically knock WRs off their routes. Very similar to the types of CBs that Greg Brown has generally focused on in his recruiting. Pretty much everyone on the roster fits this description. At safety, the Steelers have usually paired a steady guy with a playmaker who gets to freelance and come on blitzes (Troy Polamalu). Interestingly, the Steelers safeties are both under 6 feet tall, but that's not exactly a requirement. Important thing is that they roam the field and tackle. That also seems to fit our roster. In conclusion, I look at what he have and the moves Embree has made and the 3-4 just looks like the right fit to me. In fact, as I went through our roster in this way one of the things that kept popping into my head is that we should be able to vastly improve our defense simply by not having guys play out of position any more. Last year, guys were a bad fit for our 4-2-5 defense that Collins/Hawkins tried to claim was a 3-4. The other thing that I was thinking about is that a 3-4 can cover up some deficiencies at the CB position, which could be key to the 2011 success of the Buffs. And, of course, if you ever have a shutdown guy like Rod Woodson in that defense then the pass rush gets truly scary for opposing teams. Finally, the big thing the 3-4 does is shut down the other team's running game to make them 1 dimensional. Then, it tries to generate big plays by confusing the quarterback with its rush packages. Not necessarily blitzes, because you usually bring only 4 rushers. It's just that the offensive line and QB has a near-impossible time of figuring out who the 4th pass rusher is going to be and where he's coming from. I so hope I'm right about this. I love this defense and the Buffs are in pretty good shape to play it well in a hurry.